Frank Buchman, who died 50 years ago this week, was a man whose active life was built on one thing: Guidance. This was one of many affectionate reminiscences recalled about the founder of the influential Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement – today known as Initiatives of Change – at a commemoration event in Switzerland on Sunday evening.
In the cavernous meeting hall of Mountain House in Caux, high above Montreaux at the eastern end of Lake Geneva, members and friends of the global movement–today known as Initiatives for Change–gathered to reflect on the life and work of this Lutheran evangelist who led MRA through the stormy years before, during and after the Second World War.
Archive footage carried Buchman’s own voice telling of his life-changing experience during a meeting in Keswick in England’s lake district. While listening to revivalist Jessie Penn-Lewis, he came under great conviction of self-centredness in his life as he received a fresh vision of Christ on the cross dying for his sin.
That experience set him on what he a called ‘the revolutionary path’ of living according to four principles derived from the gospel: absolute selflessness, absolute honesty, absolute purity and absolute love.
But he learned that life involved more than principles. After asking a friend why his ministry efforts had been so fruitless, he was asked in return: ‘Do you let God guide you? Do you listen to Him every day?’
From then on, Buchman rose early each morning at 5am to listen quietly to the inner voice of God for daily instructions. All through the day, Buchman was listening for guidance. He described it as striving to always have his sails filled with the wind of the Spirit. Thus began the daily Quiet Time habit, a hallmark of the MRA movement.
Buchman also learned to listen to his fellow man, said one of several contributors to the commemoration. Pointing to the portrait of Buchman on the stage, he observed that most photos and portraits showed the man in a listening mode. This cultivation of spiritual sensitivity developed in Buchman a capacity for prescience of events and unusual insights into people’s situation.
Simple everyday language to express spiritual truths was another Buchman trait, recalled another. He would urge all to ‘tune in to God’s frequency’ or to learn the ‘electronics of the Spirit’. ‘Streamline your life’ was yet another Buchman expression, drawn from contemporary aviation design; it mean to jettison every hindrance to the four absolutes of selflessness, honesty, purity and love.
While some academics scoffed at such ‘vulgarity of expression’, Canon Streeter defended his friend saying: “You have got to make Christianity so simple that even intellectuals can understand it.”
Buchman believed passionately that ‘ordinary men’ could do extraordinary things–if they would only take time to listen to God’s voice. Individuals could make big changes in society when they sought God’s will; ’that voice is in each one of us’. Change was possible, he would urge; one could choose to be part of the illness or part of the cure.
Buchman preached: Human nature can be changed–that is the root; national economies can be changed–that is the fruit; the world can be changed–that is the destinity of the ages.
A French executive from the automobile industry recalled the Croix de Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur his country had awarded to Buchman for his contribution to postwar reconciliation. Buchman, and Mountain House at Caux as the Centre for Reconciliation of the Nations, had played significant roles in fostering a climate of trust and forgiveness between formerly warring powers.
The French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, once asked Buchman whom he could trust in post-nazi West Germany. Buchman responded with a list of ten names of regular visitors to Caux, including Konrad Adenaeur.
A direct result of this introduction was the rapid acceptance of the Schuman Plan, leading to the European Coal and Steel Community, forerunner of the European Union.
Buchman certainly could make mistakes, the Frenchman admitted, but these he did with enthusiasm and courage. Which he said, reminded him of Luther’s famous statement, ‘sin boldly, but believe even more boldly.’
And this was a message to all of us who make mistakes, he added.
Till next week,