Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives
This excerpt was taken from The Moody Church’s 150th anniversary book, Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives, now available for purchase.
D.L. Moody: A Man for Our Times
Dwight L. Moody most assuredly was a man for his times, but thanks to his legacy, he is a man for our times as well. He ministered in what is known as the Gilded Age, when the industrial revolution fueled economic growth and investors were striving to make their millions. These were the days of Marshall Field, the Rothchilds, and Cyrus McCormick. As for Moody himself, he left his humble home in Massachusetts, came to Chicago to seek his fortune, and excelled as a shoe salesman. He could have sought to be remembered for his wealth, but he chose a different path. He traded worldly success for significance, and even today is still remembered as one of the world’s most beloved evangelists. We have all benefited from his lasting impact and influence both in America and abroad.
When Moody died on December 22, 1899, the thousands who gathered for his funeral were told:
Though he made no inventions and had no discoveries, though he wrote no poems, painted no pictures and led no triumphant armies, this unlettered son of a poor woman in New England…made an impression on the world that this dying century has seldom seen.
A Man Ahead of His Times
Moody, building on the foundation of evangelists such as George Whitefield and Charles Finney, harnessed the power of the media to serve the cause of mass evangelism. Newspaper writers were puzzled as to how this man, whose bad grammar reflected his fourth-grade education, could fill great halls with tens of thousands of people night after night. Nevertheless, the front pages of their morning newspapers often carried the text of Moody’s sermon delivered the night before.
When Billy Graham went to England in 1954 for his three-month crusade in Harringay Arena, he admitted to “standing on the foundations that Moody had laid that were everywhere apparent.” Moody’s work, he said, “had changed the entire religious structure of a nation” and hence paved the way for big-city evangelism.
Moody also left a legacy by founding The Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute. Although these two institutions have always been separate organizationally, to this day they are bound together by sharing the vision of their common founder. Remarkably, and to the glory of God alone, both the church and the Institute have remained true to their original purpose of spreading the Gospel far and wide. Rooted in the deep soil of evangelical theology and a passion for evangelism, Moody’s legacy continues in the lives of thousands of people in Chicago and millions around the world.
Moody was able to reach people by combining the Gospel with a social emphasis—a way of preaching which was unique for his time. During his era, many evangelicals feared the “social gospel” and limited themselves to preaching the Good News of salvation, but Moody believed very deeply that the Word of God compels us to minister to strangers and the poor. He had been born into poverty himself, so when he arrived in Chicago he was keenly aware of the need in the poorer sections of the city. He went into the poorest homes in the poorest neighborhoods and played games with the most ragged and dirty children. It was natural for him, when he rented a pew at the Plymouth Street Church, to bring some of these dirty and neglected children into God’s house to hear the Good News.
The congregation, however, complained about these rowdy and ill-mannered boys. Moody became increasingly disturbed by the way Chicago’s churches were ignoring what was, to him, an obvious calling. Jesus had spent most of His ministry among the poor and outcast, so how could any Christian church worthy of the name exclude them? As he clothed, fed, and met the physical needs of those around him, Moody never failed to focus on their spiritual need for salvation and a personal relationship with Christ.
Moody turned his back on the values of elegant society and founded his Sunday School. Thus a church was born because of the love he showed to the people about whom no one else cared. So great was this love that, when the Illinois Street Church opened, Moody hung a sign outside the door that proclaimed his mission: “Ever welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor. ”
The original sign is long gone, but one with those very words still greets visitors when they enter The Moody Church today. Throughout its 150-year history, The Moody Church has emphasized the need to reach those who feel left out of society or cut off from God—whether by poverty, ethnicity, or any other factor. The church has provided practical help to people both in the city of Chicago and around the world.
Though providing practical help was important, the Gospel was always central for Moody. He knew that mankind’s greatest oppressor is not poverty or a corrupt government, but sin. He preached fearlessly the true heart of Christianity: the commitment to individual holiness that is the root of every other godly virtue, including active compassion for those who are in need.
It was because of this emphasis, not in spite of it, that under Moody’s guidance alcoholics left their drink, gamblers put down their cards, prodigal children returned to their families, and thieves made restitution for what they had stolen. His goal was to see everyone he met set free for eternity, not just for this life.
And 150 years later, we are still Celebrating the Joy of Changed Lives.
A Man for Our Times
The world has changed in unimaginable ways since the days of D.L. Moody, yet his pattern for the Christian life and the mission of the church remain relevant today: to preach the Gospel and to care for the poor and troubled that Jesus loves so much.
Since Moody’s day, God has continued to use the church’s pastors and people to reach the world. As we now celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary, perhaps the most remarkable part of the story is its continuity. The founding principles you’ll find in the earliest histories of the church are the same ones you see embodied today; The Moody Church is a true outgrowth of its roots.
Moody’s “DNA” is still imprinted on the church. It shows in our promise statement, adopted in 2004, which states “The Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others.” It shows in the congregation, which has people from more than 70 different countries of origin, working together in harmony to grow in Christ and spread the Gospel. And it shows in the hundreds of church members working diligently among the poor, both at home and abroad, to meet urgent needs and share the message of salvation.
The Moody Church was planted in Chicago for a reason: to touch the city with the Good News, praying and seeking God together for a spiritual revival in Chicago and the world. To do this, we must continue to insist on the primacy and urgency of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that the Gospel which transformed lives in D.L. Moody’s day is the same Gospel the city and the world need today.
Americans are often disinclined to look to the past. As a nation, our general focus is almost always on the future, but the lessons and legacy of D.L. Moody are vitally important in our day. Moody’s message is always fresh and pertinent because it is based on the unchanging truth of the Gospel—truth that will stand until the Lord comes again.
Moody’s legacy is not an anchor to keep us in the past, but a rudder to guide us into the future. His passion calls us to refocus and rekindle our own passion as we face the troubled days in which we live. Many of the religious freedoms and privileges that American Christianity has taken for granted are now being destroyed by the moral and spiritual trends of this world. It’s time for us to follow Moody’s example and return to the essentials.
God has called us “for such a time as this,” and while these are challenging times, they are also filled with exciting potential. As we reflect on the history of The Moody Church, we eagerly anticipate future opportunities to be a light to our neighbors and to share our hearts with the world, all for the glory of God.
This passion for God’s glory is what sent Moody into the streets day after day on his Indian pony, calling children to Sunday School. It has been the basis for 150 years of publicly proclaiming Christ in the city of Chicago, whether in evangelistic meetings at the church, “Open Air” meetings on city street corners, MoodyFest across the street, or the annual baptismal service in Lake Michigan—always inviting our neighbors to get to know us. In addition, the church provides volunteers and support to several other ministries in the city.
Moody’s determination has also fueled the church’s strong missionary emphasis from the very beginning. Over the years thousands of missionaries have been sent out to spiritually needy places in the United States and the farthest corners of the world. A few of their stories are contained in this book, but only heaven will truly show how many lives have been changed.
The book you hold in your hands is intended to bring glory to God by reminding us of His faithfulness in the life of our founder and the continuing ministry of The Moody Church. It is also intended to rekindle our own devotion to the only cause that really matters—sharing the hope-filled message of Christ to a needy world.
Join us as we celebrate the joy of changed lives—a reminder that we have a Savior who adopts rebels into His family and makes them His own blessed children.