The St. Paul’s Pulpit
Power from on High
Delivered on May 20, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D. at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)
In the churches that I attended when I was young, a standard feature of the worship service was the altar call, or the invitation at the end of the service. After the sermon, the pastor or the evangelist would ask people to come forward to make a decision for Christ. Sometimes, these invitations would last what seemed like hours. We would sing a hymn like “Just As I Am” forever, while the pastor or the evangelist stood in front of the pulpit and pleaded with people to come forward, sometimes with the promise that we would sing just one more stanza, and if no one came forward, then we would conclude the service. This practice was considered to be the culmination of the evangelistic effort and appeal. But did the early Christians use such techniques to persuade people to become followers of Jesus Christ?
As we have studied these closing words in the Gospel According to St. Luke, we have seen how Jesus ascended to the Father, but before he ascended, he told them that repentance and remission of sins must be preached in his name among all nations; or, as Matthew records it, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). After Jesus gives them this commission to preach the gospel to all nations, he tells them that they should not begin this work immediately. Before they began the great work of evangelism, there was something that Jesus wanted them to do. If he had been like some of our modern experts in church growth, Jesus would have told them something like this: “Go back to Jerusalem, and while you are there, get in touch with some of the leading businessmen in Jerusalem and ask them how to develop a marketing strategy to attract people to our movement. Since businessmen know how to sell a product, get their advice on how to attract people to your product—the gospel. Then, do a survey of the city of Jerusalem to determine the socio-economic composition of the various neighborhoods and suburbs in and around Jerusalem. Find out what the peoples’ needs are and then establish a church that will cater to those needs. Ask the people what kinds of ministries they would like to see in a church, such as a day care center for busy parents, maybe a mother’s day out program or couple’s out night program and tell them that such things will be an important part of the new church you are establishing.” Then our Lord would have told them to start passing out flyers that the Apostle Peter would be preaching at 9:00 A. M. on the day of Pentecost, saying, “You don’t want to miss the preaching of this fisherman turned evangelist.” Then the Lord would have said, “I realize that people might not come just to hear a sermon, so since there are going to be people from all over the world in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, spread the word the word that you are going to have several different kinds of seeker-friendly services. At 8:00 A.M. we will have a service with Parthian music, and at 9:00 A.M. we will have a service with Roman music. The Libyans don’t care about music that much, but they love comedy, so Simon the Zealot will do a stand-up routine at 10:00 A. M., and at 11:00 A. M., Thomas and Andrew will be doing some hilarious skits. And, of course, Henry the horse, dances the waltz.” Forgive my sarcasm. Those are the ways we try to attract people to church. Those are the ways we try to grow a church. But let us look at how the Lord said that he would grow his church.
Our Lord told his disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait until they were endued with power from on high. The word “endued” in Greek means “to be clothed,” or “to dress.” It is the same word used when are told that John the Baptist was clothed with camel’s hair. Modern translations will render this verse as, “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Power was going to be such a part of their lives, such a description of their lives, that it could be said of them that they were clothed with power. The word for “power” is the Greek word “dunamis.” It is the same word from which we get our word “dynamite.” This word “power” becomes one of the most common words in the book of Acts to describe the early church. They had power, dynamite power. They would be clothed with this kind of power. Jesus tells them that they must go into all the world and preach the gospel, but they will not be able to carry out this command unless they are clothed with power.
Today we are celebrating Pentecost. There are so many discussions about what happened on the day of Pentecost, but the primary thing that happened was that they were clothed with power. Jesus said, “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). What was the result of being clothed with power? The disciples are gathered together on the day of Pentecost, and just as the Lord promised, they are clothed with power. Peter, clothed with power, preaches a very seeker-friendly sermon to the Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and then stands in front of them for 20 minutes while he begs them to come forward and make a decision for Christ. Again, I am being sarcastic. Actually, he says, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it…. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:22-24, 36). Peter is preaching to one of the cruelest, most hard-hearted crowds ever assembled. He tells them that they are wicked men who crucified God in the flesh, the Messiah. What happens after he preaches this seeker-friendly sermon? We are told in Acts 2:37, “they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized,” and 3,000 people were converted to Christ. How did that happen? It happened because the disciples were clothed with power from on high. Acts 2:40-1 says, “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Look at that. They GLADLY received his word. You know what happens when I preach like that? People walk out in a huff. But the disciples were clothed with power from on high. If they had not been clothed with power from on high, let me tell you what would have happened. If they had not been clothed with power from on high, the people would have said, “This Jesus whom you talk about is not Lord and Christ. Just because you say that he is Lord and Christ doesn’t mean that he is. You say that he was raised from the dead. Well, show us proof that that happened. Who says so. We all know that he didn’t really rise from the grave. You followers of Jesus stole his body, and now you are telling us this fable that he was raised from the dead. Furthermore, we are not wicked men. This Jesus was a blasphemer, and he was condemned as a blasphemer and deceiver by the highest court of our people. And the Romans agreed with us that he was a dangerous man who needed to be destroyed for the good of the state.” If the disciples had not be clothed with power from on high, that is what the people would have said, and they would have walked away and not a single one of them would have been converted. But since the disciples were clothed with power from on high, 3,000 believed every word that the Apostle Peter spoke. This power the disciples had was continually demonstrated. In Acts 4:33, we read, “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” Again, you notice that they are still preaching the resurrection of Jesus, and people are believing this message about Jesus being raised from the dead because the disciples have this great power. When the Apostle Paul went around the world and preached to idol worshipers and those who were living in the grossest forms of immorality, how did he have success? He went to Corinth, which would have been something like us going to Las Vegas. Corinth was notorious for all kinds of idolatry and sexual immorality. But Paul actually establishes a church in Corinth with converts from that society. How? Paul writes in I Corinthians 2:4, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” How did Paul get converts? He got them the old-fashioned way–he preached to them. But his preaching was successful because of this power. The Apostle Paul went to Thessalonica, another city given to the worship of idols, but again, he was successful there. How? Paul writes in I Thess. 1:5-9:
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
Think of that! Some strangers show up in Thessalonica and tell the people something about a man named Jesus who they claim had been raised from the dead, and they told these people that the gods they worship didn’t really exist—that there is only one true and living God. And these people, who had known nothing all their lives except the worship of pagan gods, turned from idols to serve the true and living God. How did that happen? Paul says that his preaching of the gospel didn’t come to them in word only, but in power. This power is what is what is lacking in our preaching today. We are preaching the word, but we are preaching in word only. Back in 1888, the Rt. Rev. W. S. Baldwin, the Anglican Bishop of Huron in Canada, delivered a paper called “Preaching in the Nineteenth Century.” He wrote the following:
If all the men who press forward for the ministry would only wait until they were endued with power from on high, the Church would shake the world. All the learning of the schools, however subtle, however profound, cannot supply this power; the Holy Ghost we must have, we ought to have, and, let us register our fixed determination, we shall have. A minister enters the pulpit with the idea of preaching Christ. He has the facts concerning Christ, but not the light to illuminate nor the power to enforce them. He consequently fails, and the congregation is glad when the sermon is over. It was like a professor giving his students a lecture on botany at midnight. Gentlemen, he says, if you will only stoop down and feel these flowers, you will perceive how exquisite is their structure, and how various their growth. But botany cannot be studied at midnight. And Christ cannot be preached at midnight either without the Holy Ghost. Preachers speak of a Christ, but their congregations do not see Him; of His exquisite loveliness, but they do not comprehend it. All is dark; midnight is about them. What is needed is Light, Life, Power, and these three are in the Holy Ghost. (12-3)
Our preaching has lacked power for a long, long time—for several centuries at least. Since our ministers have not been clothed with power from on high for a long time, we have had to turn to various methods, techniques, and strategies to attract people to the church. I started this message talking about how many ministers use an altar call, an invitation. One of the statements that changed my whole life was when I heard a famous evangelist say, “Go through the Scriptures and tell me where you find a description of an altar call.” He said, “It’s not in Scripture—it’s an invention of preachers.” And then he said the following, which really turned my whole life and ministry around. He said, “You see, when the Holy Spirit stopped battering the minds and wills of men and women, the preacher stepped in to help.” What he was saying was this: there was a time, when all that was necessary to convert sinners was for the preacher to preach the word, and people would be converted on the spot, because the Holy Spirit would descend on people and convict them of their sin and draw them to Christ, but that stopped happening. Even if you go back to the days of John Wesley, George Whitfield, and Jonathan Edwards, who saw thousands of conversions, they never gave an invitation, never gave an altar call. They didn’t need to have an altar call. People were converted just under the power of their preaching. But when the Holy Spirit stopped moving in that powerful way, preachers began to develop techniques to prey on the emotions of people to get people to make decisions. These techniques really began with Charles G. Finney in the 19th century, and after him the techniques began to get more sophisticated. Music began to be used to prey on people’s emotions, and to this day music is still a powerful technique to induce people to make decisions. For this reason, in so many evangelistic crusades, they rely heavily on contemporary music to whip the people into an emotional frenzy. Once you do that, it’s pretty easy to manipulate the people to make almost any kind of decision you want them to make. It is amazing when you analyze all the psychological techniques and gimmicks people use to get others to make decisions for Christ. I remember when I was around 15, I was chosen to be a counselor at the crusade of a very famous evangelist. As we were being trained, the trainer told us, “When we give the invitation for people to come forward to make a decision, the moment the organ starts playing, you get up and come to the front, because when other people see you coming forward, that will make it easier for them to come forward, because they will say to themselves, ‘If all these people are coming forward to make a decision, then there must be something to it, so I’ll go forward, too.’” Not only was that practice dishonest, it was also an admission that we must use psychological and emotional techniques like that to get people to make decisions. But now, we must use the same sorts of gimmicks just to get people to come to church, much less make a decision once they get there. We are especially obsessed with getting young people in church and keeping them in church. So, what do we do? We offer them music, food, parties, summer trips, etc., and when they get 18, what do they do? They leave the church anyway. When they get 18, they can find their own music, food, parties, and summer trips. Whatever you use to get people here is what you are going to have use to keep them here. If you got them here with music, then you are going to have keep pumping up the volume, at least until they discover a church that has a better band than you.
Why is it then that the Church in the United States is not growing? Why is it that the church is losing numbers? Leaders of all the denominations are meeting just trying to find ways to stop the hemorrhaging? Leaders are trying to find ways to attract people to the church. The answer is so simple. All we need is to be clothed with power from on high.
For many years, people have invited me to go hear famous preachers and evangelists, and they have said, “This man is really filled with Holy Spirit. He really gets with it when he preaches.” So, I would go and listen to him, and I would have to give it to him, he really got with it when he preached. But he was just loud and emotional, and for a long time people in our churches have confused loud and emotional with the presence of the Holy Spirit. No, when we are truly endued with power from on high, people by the thousands will be converted in a quiet, simple worship service such as we have here. They won’t be converted by a loud band or an emotional preacher. They will be converted by the Holy Spirit. I have been teaching you how we preach when gather for Holy Communion, but we must be clothed with power from on high to be the kind of worshipers that preach when they worship. Now if the answer to the lack of church growth is our lack of power, how are we to obtain this power?
First, we must admit that we are not clothed with power from on high. I’m not saying that we don’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. But there is a difference between the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and being clothed with power from on high. Let us admit that we do not have this power that attended the preaching of the apostles. Such an admission is a very humbling, and even humiliating thing to do, but it is necessary. We can keep playing games, or we can admit that we are not clothed with power from on high the way the disciples were on the day of Pentecost. Back in 1859, Charles Vaughan preached a sermon on this subject in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, at an ordination service for priests and deacons, and he said,
The call of the text has been forgotten. Men have not tarried till they were endued with power from on high. They have gone forth as they were, in the weakness of earth and of nature, not in the strength of Heaven and of the Spirit. Have we, my brethren, who have for many years been discharging, have you, my brethren, who are this day undertaking, the office of a Priest or Deacon in the Church of Christ—let me say, in terms still plainer, of a Christian Clergyman in this our Church of England, and in this its busiest and most populous Diocese—have we, have you, ever tarried to reflect upon the nature and demands of our work? have we ever taken the measure of those things which we must have for this work—those things which if we have not, our ministry must be marred, if not ruined. The Apostles, after three years of daily converse with their Lord and Master, were yet bidden to tarry till they were specially endued with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit—those gifts and graces which in their combination constituted what is here called power from on high. Do we, do you, less need than they did that anointing? Is our human nature stronger than theirs in things spiritual? Has our early and youthful nurture, in a land of nominal Christianity, been so thorough, and so free from counteraction and contamination, that we can dispense with that enabling strength for which saints of old waited? (11-2)
So, I’m sending out a call today to all ministers of the gospel and all Christians around the world to admit that we are not clothed with power from on high. And I will take the lead in this and confess that I am not clothed with power from on high. I ask others to forget their pride and join with me in this confession.
Second, we must refuse to settle for anything less than being clothed with power from on high. There are thousands, even millions of Christians around the world today who claim to have this power from on high, but it is so painfully obvious that they do not have this power. The world knows that we don’t have this power, and for this reason, they ignore us. The only people who believe they have this power, who believe they have been baptized with this power, are easily deceived, deluded, and gullible Christians who have accepted a shallow substitute. This morning I have explained how historically it became obvious to ministers and churches that they were not clothed with power from on high, so they stepped in to give the Holy Spirit a helping hand. We tried various techniques, and what we got were counterfeit conversions. The Pentecostals and Charismatics were right in their quest to seek the power of the Holy Spirit. But when they didn’t receive the power of the Holy Spirit, they did what all other Christian groups have done. They deluded themselves into believing that they had been clothed with power from on high. The most dangerous deception of all is to want to believe something so badly that you will convince yourself that you have something when it is so clear that you don’t.
I have here in my hands my certificate that I received when I was licensed to preach. It says, “Certificate of License. This is to certify that Randy Toms who has given evidence that God has called him into The Gospel Ministry was Licensed to preach the Gospel as he may have opportunity, and to exercise his gifts in the work of the Ministry by the First Baptist Church of Bienville, Louisiana on the 5th day of May 1968.” Over fifty years ago I was licensed to preach. For over 50 years I have been seeking to be clothed with power from on high. It hasn’t happened, and now that I’m 65, it’s looking like it may never happen. But there is one thing I have never done—I have never accepted anything less than being clothed with power from on high. I have never deluded myself into thinking I have been when I haven’t. I have sought this power in various ways for 50 years, attending the services of various denominations, and I have been prayed with, prayed for, prayed over, and people from various churches have laid hands on me, and I have had some of the most amazing, emotional feelings of joy, ecstasy, and peace you could ever have, but I always knew that these experiences were not the same as being clothed with power from on high. You may ask, “Fr. Toms, what would be the evidence to you of being clothed with power from on high?” Well, 3,000 unchurched, hard-hearted, idolatrous people being converted under one of my sermons in one day would do for starters, and that’s just for starters. We must not allow ourselves to accept shallow substitutes for being clothed with power from on high, the shallow substitutes that all branches of Christ’s church have been accepting for centuries.
I’m not sure why we are not clothed with power from on high. It may just be that it is just God’s sovereign will that, at the present time, he is not going to grant this power. The world may be under judgment, and God is withholding this gift until his he has meted out his judgment, and then he will restore this power to His church. On the other hand, it could be that we have grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit. Today, we are celebrating Pentecost–the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church. The Holy Spirit has been present with the church ever since the day of Pentecost. He has never left us. He is present with this local church, and he is present with all branches of Christ’s church. Again, let me be clear. I am not saying that Christians at the present time do not have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians. I am not saying that Christians are not filled with the Spirit. All Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit. But it is obvious that we are not clothed with power from on high in the way the disciples were. The Scriptures teach us that we can quench and grieve the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Christians around the world should examine their hearts and see if we are grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit. We need to pray earnestly what we pray for every morning and every evening: “Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit.” Repentance is the gift of God. We can’t repent on our own by an act of will power. We love our sins too much. God, by the Holy Spirit, must grant us repentance. Let us pray that God would grant us repentance so that we would no longer grieve and quench his Holy Spirit.
But let me close with a word of warning and caution. Jesus told his disciples, “But tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high?” Unfortunately, many people took that word “tarry” and developed a whole theology around it. People began to hold what were called “tarrying meetings.” They would meet for prayer, sometimes for days on end, crying, screaming, jumping around, pounding on walls–committed to tarry until the Lord poured out his power on them. If you do that long enough, your mind will eventually short circuit and you will have some kind of experience, but it won’t be from God. So, don’t worry. We aren’t going to have any “tarrying meetings.” You can’t force God’s hand. The disciples on the day of Pentecost were not engaged in some kind of agonizing prayer meeting, screaming until the Lord answered their prayer. As we saw last week, they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. They were also gathering together in an upper room, and they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. There is no indication that they were fulfilling some kind of extraordinary requirement to be clothed with power from on high. The Holy Spirit came upon a worshipping community. When God pours out his power from on high on us, he will do so in the ordinary worship of gathered people. Where do we tarry? We tarry right here, Sunday after Sunday, sacrament after sacrament. We tarry. We wait. We pray for the day when we will be endued with power from on high. I am offering no techniques, no emotional gimmicks so that we can trick ourselves into believing that God has poured out his power on us. God pours out his power on his people while they are engaged in the ordinary use of the means of grace—prayer, preaching, and in the celebration of Holy Communion, for it is here that we truly and earnestly repent. It is here, in worship, that we forsake the sin that grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit. It is here, in a simple, quiet, reverent worship service like this, that God grants his power to his waiting disciples.
Believing what I believe on this subject is a dangerous thing. We could grow an organization using any of the techniques and strategies I have mentioned today, and it may be that one day you will want to get a pastor here who will do those things just so that this body can survive, and I would have no hard feelings if you did. But I can’t use those gimmicks and techniques. To do so, would be a betrayal of all that I believe about the power of the Holy Spirit that is manifested simply through Word and Sacrament. Believing what I believe, our church will grow only if God has mercy on us and endues us with power from on high. One day, God is going to endue his church with power from on high. I firmly believe that. He may not endue this local body with power from on high. He may not endue with power from on high any man or any church in this generation. The Church may not be endued with power from on high for several centuries, perhaps even thousands of years from now. As I have told you, our Prayer Book has a table for determining the date of Easter until the year 8,400 A. D. God may not endue the church with power from on high until 7,400 A. D. but one day, he will. And when he does, “the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:2-4). When the church is endued with power from high, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). When we are endued with power from on high, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (Ps. 22:27-28). But until that day, I will not pretend that the church has this power, and I will not deceive myself into believing that the church has this power when she doesn’t. To do so is an embarrassment to the Church of the living God, just as those churches are that pretend to have this power when they don’t. By doing so, we give occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. They look at our so-called “demonstrations of power,” and sneer, “Some power!” No, I will not play that game. I will keep asking God to be endued with power from on high. I will keep pleading with God to pour out this power on his entire Church. And, should I never see that, I will die praying that the Church will be soon clothed with this power. And when he does, we will see a strong and vibrant church, and the Lord will once again add to his church daily such as should be saved. There will be a church that grew enormously just through the simple observance of Word and Sacrament. May God hasten the day when we will be clothed with power from on high. Amen.
Baldwin, M. S. “Nineteenth Century Preaching.” Papers on Preaching. M. S. Baldwin, et al. New York: Fleming Revell, 1888. 9-23.
Vaughan, Charles John. Power from on High: An Ordination Sermon. London: Crossley and Clarke, 1859.