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A.W. Tozer’s Final Warning to the Church at His Death

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A.W. Tozer’s Final Warning
to the Church at His Death

Bentley C.F. Chan

A dead man’s message to the world

Let me begin with a true story that caught my attention many years ago. Yul Brynner (1920–1985) was a famous actor in his time, having received the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1956 for his role as the king of Siam in “The King and I”. Some may recognize him more for his role as Pharaoh in “The Ten Commandments”.

Brynner began smoking heavily at the age of twelve. In 1983, at the age of 63, he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just a few hours before he was about to give his 4000th stage performance in the musical “The King and I,” and had to put his career on hold to undergo radiotherapy.

In January 1985, nine months before he died, he gave an inter­view on Good Morning America to discuss the dangers of smoking. Aware that he was dying, he expressed the wish to make a commercial to urge people not to smoke. The commercial was eventually made in collab­oration with the American Cancer Society. For maximum impact, they arranged for the commercial to be released a few days after he dies. I myself saw it on Canadian television. Here is an account of the commercial from Wikipedia:

Brynner died of lung cancer on October 10, 1985 at New York Hospital at the age of 65. A few days after his death, the recorded anti-cigarette public service announcement was shown on all the major US television networks and in many other countries. In it, he expressed his desire to make an anti-smoking commercial after discovering how sick he was, and that his death was imminent. He then looked directly into the camera for 30 seconds and said, “Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke. If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer. I’m convinced of that.” [1]

In his dying days, Yul Brynner had a solemn message for the world—Don’t smoke!—and arranged for it to be released a few days after his death for maximum impact in the hope of saving lives.

Another posthumous message to the world

Yesterday I read a “book” by A.W. Tozer which I bought two years ago for about a dollar. I put the word “book” in quotations because it is not really a book but an essay of around 18 pages. I bought this Kindle ebook [2] without knowing what its content was because I was intrigued by its title, The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches.

Interestingly, this essay was released in 1963 two days after Tozer’s death. And like Yul Brynner, Tozer had a life-and-death message.

I was intrigued by the title, “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches”. To “wane” means to decrease in vigor, power, or extent (Oxford); it is sometimes used of a declining world power.

But how is it possible for Christ’s authority to wane in the church? Isn’t Christ the head of the church? Isn’t he the one who had been “given” all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18)?

If his authority in the church was already waning in 1963, could it have waned further in our time, some 57 years later?

We might dismiss Tozer’s puzzling words if they had been uttered by a lesser mortal. But I cannot dismiss his words because A.W. Tozer (1897–1963) was a spiritual giant in his generat­ion. While it is true that he was well known in the church, wrote Christian classics, and shunned material possessions (he never owned a car), none of these was the true reason for his spiritual stature. The real reason was that he was a voice in the wilderness, and his voice carried what I would call “prophetic authority”—prophetic not in the sense of foretelling future events but of speaking to the church with the intensity of God’s heart and the authority of God’s word. In address­ing the spiritual condition of the church, Tozer did not try to please men but spoke plainly and authoritatively, yet with God’s love.

Tozer’s final message to the church

Tozer begins his essay with these poignant words:

Here is the burden of my heart; and while I claim for myself no special inspiration I yet feel that this is also the burden of the Spirit. If I know my own heart it is love alone that moves me to write this.

Tozer is grieved by a condition that he believes is “almost universally prevalent among the churches”. Like an Old Testament prophet, he admits his own guilt because he too is numbered among God’s people.

Here is the core reason for the burden of his heart: “Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name.”

He specifically says he is not speaking of liberals or Roman Catholics but those who “protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely, the evangelicals.”

I think Tozer is focusing on the evangelicals because he comes from their ranks, but in truth his statement about Christ’s waning authority could apply to the church universal.

Tozer says that Christ’s position in the church is like that of a king in a constitutional monarchy: “He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions.” He says that the church has installed Christ as its nominal head, yet does its own thing. It is “now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has.”

I won’t reveal too much from Tozer’s essay except to mention one example that he gives: “the revival of intellectualism among the evangelicals”. Here he talks about the appeal of “philosophy or psy­chology” to evangelicals, as well as their desire for “academic degrees,” with the lordship of Christ occupying a secondary place in the church. Tozer doesn’t mention it, but many churches today require a pastor to have a Master’s degree, oral eloquence, doctrinal conformity, and sometimes even business acumen, none of which is found in Paul’s spiritual require­ments for a church leader (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

Tozer concludes his essay with the admonition that we “go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonored our Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as Head and Lord of the Church.”


Photo (c) was taken in 2020 by Bentley C.F. Chan
Montreal, Quebec
Photo inserted for decorative purposes only

 



[1] From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yul_Brynner. All my informa­tion on Yul Brynner is taken from this Wikipedia article.

[2] The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches: Tozer’s Very Last Message to the Church, a Kindle e-book published by CrossReach publications and available from Amazon.com. Our website earns no money from Amazon.com for recommending books, and has never had “commissions” links of any kind.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church