Sunday, October 08, 2006

Spiritual Deadness: Backsliding Part 5 of 7

5. Spiritual and intellectual ignorance of the truth leads to the fatal plague of spiritual deadness in the church. God’s people must begin with themselves. What happened to the times when people were often weekly moved, shaken, and convicted by the Lord? Should they not confess today, "Oh, that it could happen once a month or once a year"? Where are the active, current exercises of spiritual life? "Oh," they confess, "It is so dead! And the rest is all spoiled manna."

What should be yearned for here is not some sort of spirituality, or appearance of it. What should be yearned for is not a emotional outburst or over welling of joy. Indeed, as Dan Phillips has pointed out, being spiritually alive may not always be accompanied by feelings or emotion. In fact, when our yearnings are for feelings of "spirituality", or emotions of joy, or emotions of being "on fire for Christ", then what we are actually desiring is satiation of desires of the flesh. That is not to say that God does not often bless us in those ways, it merely means being truly alive spiritually results in yearning for our minds to be set on the things of the Spirit and not to be set upon satifying our desires. In a time when our churches have shunned worship in exchange for "celebrations", it is clear that we are seeking to meet the fleshly desires of those that should be worshipping rather than the commands of THE ONE worthy of worship. We honor Him with our lips, but are hearts [and minds] are far from Him. We worship Him in vain and our teachings are just rules taught by men.

Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)
5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Picture of Shackles
What the spiritually alive yearn for is God's truth, to be humbled and awed by His majesty, to be afraid of His justice, to have our minds set upon His will and not our own, and to have our minds set upon His desires and not our own. The spiritually alive yearn to submit themselves to Him, not just as a pheasant would before a nobleman or fuedal leader (read as "Lord"), but as a slave before a master... completely owned. Completely owned...

Is this the view of the people in the church today or do most rebel against His Lordship... His Mastery of our lives? We need to "start with ourselves," wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, [r]emember what we received and heard, keep it, and repent.

Pastor Phil Newton of Southwoods Baptist Church in Memphis, TN points to the Church of Sardis in a sermon [text] [mp3] on Revelation 3:1-6 as the Biblical example of a spiritually dying church. He not only draws out the traits of a church under a "deathwatch", but also gives a prescription for dealing with spiritual deadness in the church.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ignorance, the companion of Indifference: Backsliding Part 4 of 7

We interrupt the regularly scheduled programming to attempt to tie together several concepts floating around out there in the blogosphere. Those concepts are the Lordship of Christ and the role of emotion and feelings in the Christian life.

I believe that the proper balance of mind and heart is what Dan Phillips is straining to describe when he says:

    “You see, I envision another category besides hollow, rote, ritualistic going-through-the-motions on the one hand, and surfing in absolute thralldom to waves of emotion, on the other. There's the category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind. There's living from conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotional, it may cut straight across that realm. It isn't chained to it. It survives it, it goes on -- you go on -- when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don't seek them, you seek God.”

To understand the context of what Dan is describing MUST require a proper understanding of Christ’s Lordship.

Os Guinness in Fit Bodies Fat Minds draws the parallel well:

    The first influence that helped to undermine what was left of the Puritan mind and leave its mark on evangelicalism is the polarization of truth, in the sense of a false antagonism between heart and mind…

    Some tension between mind and heart, intellect and emotions, is a recurring theme of Christian history. Yet despite this condition, a hallmark of the Puritan mind was its commitment to the unity of truth and thus to the integration of faith and life, worship and discipleship, faith and learning. All of these things were under the lordship of Christ. Each was a part of its own sphere and calling. None was to be isolated or treated as a favored part of truth.

    This feature was not unique to the Puritans – various periods and schools of Catholic thinking have had the same high aim. But for the early American Puritans it was a direct legacy of the Calvinist wing of the Reformation as it passionately endeavored to return to the New Testament requirements of the lordship of Christ. As the great Calvinist prime minister and pastor Abraham Kuyper was to express it later in Holland, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’ “

    By the early eighteenth century and the time of the later Puritans, however, this passion was cooling and the old false antagonisms were developing – between faith and learning, learning and experience, formality and fervor, a sharp mind and a warm heart. Then when the First Great Awakening occurred, many people emphasized one of the two poles at the expense of the other – faith, with it warm heart, experience, and fervor usually being favored at the expense of learning and a sharp mind.

Hmmmm…. it seems that perhaps this interruption of regularly scheduled programming has provided the perfect segue into the forth stage down the slippery slope:

    4. Indifference produces its close companion on the road of backsliding: ignorance. When we look back to Edwards, Whitefield, Owen, Bunyan, and dozens more of our forefathers and consider that their sermons were understood by the common people, we must fear that what the Lord said of Israel is also true of the church today: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

As Os Guinness put it, [These types of errors] “have been widely justified but deadly – such as the only-in-America notion that it is legitimate to separate an acceptance of Christ as Savoir from an acceptance of Christ as Lord (a sorry case of testimony overruling theology.) He goes on:

    All reveal a critical, two-hundred-year flaw in the evangelical mind. As Charles Malik warned in his address at the Billy Graham Center, “The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world. Indeed it may turn out you have actually lost the world.” [Deathrow would like to point out that in reality, what probably occurred is that the world actually won you.]

    Until this flaw is addressed, the antagonisms are overcome, and evangelicals hold to a vision of Christian truth that displays wholeness and integration, evangelical thinking can be faithful neither to the lordship of Christ nor to the intellectually challenges of today’s world.

Amen! and Amen!