Keeping Faith with A.J. Gordon’s Legacy at Gordon College
In his last book, How Christ Came to Church, A. J. Gordon told of his own spiritual journey by recounting and interpreting a vivid dream that spoke profoundly to him and captured the heart of his life in ministry.
In his dream Gordon finds himself in the pulpit on a Sunday morning when he notices a stranger enter the sanctuary. Walking up the aisle, the stranger turns his head from side to side, as if to survey those who had come to the worship that morning, and seeking a place among them to sit. Gordon’s attention is held captive by this strange man out in the congregation throughout the whole sermon; he cannot avert his eyes. When the service is over, Gordon hurries to where the man had been seated, only to find that he has already left. Gordon then turns to the man who had been seated next to the stranger and asks whether he knows who was seated next to him. The man replies: “Why, didn’t you know him? That was Jesus of Nazareth.” “How could you have let him get away before I had a chance to welcome him?” asks Gordon, with some distress. To which the man says: “Do not be troubled. He has been here today and no doubt he will come again.”
These two assurances–Christ’s presence here today and his certain return–became for Gordon the two great convictions that gave shape to his life of ministry. You will note that the title of Gordon’s book is not “When Christ Came to Church” but How Christ Came to Church. Gordon’s aim was not to record an event, or even a series of events, but rather to relate a process by which he learned to walk in the awareness of, and live in the conviction of, the reality of Christ’s presence now and his expected return.
The fact that God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, is ever-present with his Church is a source of both great comfort and terrifying conviction. It is Christ’s presence that allows us to see ourselves, our actions, and our situation through His eyes. Likewise, the certainty of Christ’s coming reign that compels us to purity in our lives and adds direction, meaning and hope to our service to others.
In his book, Gordon recounts how these two great realities led to new spiritual life within himself and revitalized the congregation and its ministry. He tells of how he preached a few sermons on the duties of the Christian life and offered a few extended times of prayer for those interested in living in full obedience to the Holy Spirit. In response to this, over the years, the Holy Spirit himself, through the people whom he was given to move, shaped and renewed the congregation. Changes were made. Congregational singing was emphasized over the hiring of a paid choir, as was the customary practice. The practice of pew rentals was eliminated. In time, a new weekly prayer meeting arose, out of which grew several new ministries, including a mission among the Chinese community of Boston, outdoor preaching in Boston commons, “rescue” work among wayward women and alcoholic men; an industrial home for ‘intemperate and unemployed men’, many of whom found Christ; the forerunner of this very institution, grew out of that prayer meeting, which Gordon describes as a school for training evangelists “designed to equip men and women of humble attainments for Christian work at home and abroad.” When the school was in its fourth year, Gordon wrote, its fruit already included “a score of foreign missionaries sent out . . . and many more put forth into destitute fields at home, with a hundred and fifty [students enrolled for] instruction.”
Many others in the congregation of the Clarendon Street church entered into active evangelism, and giving to foreign missions increased from a baseline of around $3000 annually up to $10,000, 12,000, even 20,ooo. Worship had a freshness and heartiness hitherto unknown. And all of this, not because the minister did the planning, but because impediments were removed for the Spirit to work.
By Greg Carmer, Dean of Christian Life and Theologian-in-Residence
(excerpt from a 2011 Chapel address).