Christian Worldview

Storming the Gates of Hell

In the course of revising and updating the book The Body, that is now republished as Being the Body, I came across a keen observation by John Calvin. The great reformer said that wherever the marks of the Church are evident -- that is, preaching the Word, the sacraments, and church discipline -- inevitably, the surrounding culture will be changed. Calvin's maxim is true. I've seen it at work in the toughest places in our society -- inside cold, barren prisons like Newton, Iowa. It was on a gray December day two years ago that I first visited Newton for the dedication of our second InnerChange Freedom Initiative prison. I must confess I wasn't expecting much. The participants had only been together for a couple of months -- not enough time, I thought, for them to bond into a group. But was I ever wrong! When the gates to the compound swung open, excited men swarmed around me. During lunch I must have signed a hundred Bibles and listened to dozens of testimonies. Before the dedication service, I met with all of the men in the cell block and challenged them to a life of faithfulness while listening to murmurs of "Amen." When I finished, instead of applauding, they jumped to their feet, thrust their Bibles in the air and chanted together, "This is my Bible." They lifted their Bibles a second time: "It is a lamp unto my feet." They continued in a great festal chant, verse after verse from the Psalms. I looked out over two hundred men on fire for God and thought to myself, I could march these guys right out of here today and storm the gates of hell. How could this have happened in two months? At least half of these men were unbelievers when they arrived, and yet within a short time, the whole prison culture had been transformed. The staff explained that when the Christian inmates arrived, they began meeting for prayer regularly. As new inmates arrived, the Christians witnessed to them and invited them into Bible studies. The same thing has happened in our Texas and Kansas prisons, and it's now happening in our fourth prison in Minnesota. And studies are showing that the result is a dropping recidivism rate -- statistical proof of changed lives. The evidence is indisputable: The Church, when it is the Church, behind the prison walls is transforming the surrounding culture. So this coming Sunday, I'll be back in prison -- the Broward County Correctional Institute in Florida. I'll tell the story again of "Jesus the Prisoner" dying in our place, promising eternal life to a condemned felon and rising again. Prisoners will respond to the Gospel, and the prison culture will be changed. But there's a lesson here for the rest of us -- one we should reflect upon as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection. Evangelicals are shamefully casual about the Church. We hop from one church to the next; we act more like spectators than participants. Our lack of commitment to the Church is one reason 68 percent of Americans say there's no such thing as moral truth. But when we get serious and become the Church we're supposed to be -- worshipping, praying, studying the Word, celebrating the sacraments and ordinances, administering discipline -- our culture will be transformed. If it can happen in the prisons, where people come from the most hopeless backgrounds imaginable, it can -- by God's grace -- happen in your community. For further reading and information: Learn more about InnerChange Freedom Initiative. "Easter in Angola: Jesus the Prisoner" -- This audiocassette includes Charles Colson's message delivered at Angola Prison Easter 2002. Pat Nolan, "Bearing Fruit in Angola," BreakPoint WorldView, July/August 2002. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020506, "By God's Grace: Easter in Angola." BreakPoint Commentary No. 020329, "An Unholy Hoax?: The Authenticity of Christ." Roberto Rivera, "Levity: Holy Week Reflections on Forgiveness and Grace," BreakPoint Online, 16 April 2003. Roberto Rivera, "Springtime and Signs: Lent and Holy Week," Boundless, 10 April 2003. Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body: A New Call for the Church to be Light in the Darkness(W Publishing, 2003).


Chuck Colson


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