If you’ve never heard of a guy named T. Austin Sparks, I’m not surprised. Christians of our day know too little about this man. Yet his ministry was one of the richest and most Christ-centered ever to grace the pages of church history. The purpose of this little post is to encourage you to get acquainted with this brother of by-gone days.
Theodore Austin Sparks was born in London, England in 1888. His life and ministry extended well into the 20th century, based out of his home in Honor Oak. Sparks was ordained a pastor in the Baptist denomination at the age of 25, but not long into his tenure he experienced a personal crisis of conscience, stemming from a new and altogether revolutionary apprehension of the Person of Jesus Christ and God’s eternal purpose concerning Him. It was an encounter of such significance that it led him to abandon the title “Reverend” and withdraw his connection to the institutional church system of his day.
Thus, a new assembly soon came into being at Honor Oak which was formed on the basis of a revelation of the “heavenly nature, vocation, and destiny of the church as the Body of Christ.” Hear Sparks explain this process in his own words:
“That which the Lord had done in us through the deeper work of the Cross had, among other things, resulted in a strange detachment in spirit from the earthly aspect of things religious. We found ourselves lifted spiritually from the forms and systems, the titles, designations, divisions, and orders of Christianity as here known amongst men; and our concern was for “all saints” without discrimination. But the Lord very definitely took us in hand to show us in a positive way the meaning of what He had done. We saw later how much this was in keeping with His Word throughout. The Altar always leads to the House; pointing on to the fact that Calvary leads to the Church. There can be no Church until there has been an Altar, but the very object of the Altar-the Cross-is the Church. And so, with steadily increasing clearness and fulness, there opened to us the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ.”
You’ve heard the expression “organic church”? Well, believe it or not, it was Sparks who coined the term. Listen to his own description, based upon his experience in those early days:
“Thus, having set aside all the former system of organised Christianity, we committed ourselves to the principle of the organic. No ‘order’ was ‘setup’, no officers or ministries were appointed. We left it with the Lord to make manifest by ‘gift’ and anointing who were chosen of Him for oversight and ministry. The one-man ministry has never emerged. The ‘overseers’ have never been chosen by vote or selection, and certainly not by the expressed desire of any leader. No committees or official bodies have ever existed in any part of the work. Things in the main have issued from prayer. We are very conscious that mistakes have been made, but the result of these has only served to re-emphasize the above principles.”
Along with some other brothers in the church at Honor Oak, Sparks published a bi-monthly magazine entitled “A Witness and a Testimony” from 1923 until his death in 1971. Articles from this magazine, along with other larger works either written or transcribed from Sparks’ spoken messages, can be found online at www.austin-sparks.net.
Personally, I’ve probably received as much if not more from the ministry of T. Austin Sparks than I have any other servant of God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come away from one of his writings in absolute awe of the sighting it gave me of Jesus Christ. So I encourage you to make an effort to get to know this brother. Drink deeply from the well of truth he left behind. His writings are by no means an easy read, but they are well worth the effort.
In conclusion, listen to the words of one Harry Foster, a close friend and associate of TAS in the Lord’s work, who had the following to say about his friend after Sparks’ death:
“Perhaps one of the earliest of his books can best give us a real clue to his whole life and ministry. It is called “The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This was where he began, and this was where he ended, for it became noticeable in his closing years that he lost interest in subjects and concentrated his attention on the person of Christ. Christ is central!”
Christ is central! Nothing better sums up the life and ministry of a man whom most Christians today know little to nothing about. Read this man, and read him well!