Thursday, July 12, 2012

Through The Fire




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In Ezekiel, the prophet railed against the people for sacrificing their children to idols, passing them through the fire. Today, we scoff at such 'primitive' behavior, too. But for entirely different reasons. We dismiss a practice of child sacrifice as much as we scorn rain dancing or Bible reading. In our world, our culture, secular thought has risen above all superstition and stands in proud, dismissive judgement of it all. Belief in anything unseen is completely incompatible with a world driven by 'science.' This ignorant superiority over the past has blinded us like the contemporary thought of Ezekiel's generation. Remember, people hated the prophets because they felt they were wrong. Ezekiel was calling out a people that felt they were properly religious in a contemporary way.
Today's Christianity has fallen away from the zealous, fervent worship and devotion of ages past. Modern Christians degrade the recent past as “boring,” and prior Christian practices as “stale traditions,” or “legalism.” The new Christianity pretends to be a cultural troubadour, righting the stiff injustices of past generations. And how do they correct the Christianity's errors? By reassuring everyone that they won't be boring, stale and solemn. They use flippant jargon, referring to a sacred faithful response to God's awesome grace as “God stuff.” They reduce the rich, reverent worship of the past to a thumping rock concert. They write off the Puritans and other faithful generations as “hypocrites.” And they bristle at the mere suggestion that they are worshipping themselves rather than God; all the while they cater to their own tastes, talk about their “felt needs” instead of their TRUE need and make popular books or raps equivalent to Scripture in their presentation.
Hypocrites are those that say one thing, but deny it in practice. To that extent, the modern Christian points to some straw man of Religion who preached purity, but wasn't pure. The truth of the matter is, no follower of Christ has ever claimed to be perfect. But they used to preach sanctification, separation from the world and holy living. Failing to meet Christ's standard isn't hypocrisy. But telling others that you are a follower of Christ and yet never showing a life of sanctification, is. And that's what our modern Christendom is, a raving group of Free Grace hypocrites, exulting in their sin and giving up on sanctified, holy living.
Today's Christian is more pragmatic. He/she wants to know what steps to take to have a successful, epic, blessed life. They want God's blessing without having to obey. They want to be a law unto themselves and yet receive the blessings of a lover of God's law. What they're really looking for is a system that affirms happiness through religious check-lists, instead of living a life of self-denial, submission and devotion in relationship to God.
The average American Christian is just like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day: Not in their judgmental attitude, but in their faith in human styles and trends. Today's Christian is identical to the idolaters of Ezekiel's day in sacrificing their kids, too. By seeking out teachers that change, diminish or toss out the Bible, they have embraced the World and sacrificed their children to the World system. The average church with their indictments against any call of separation has fallen over itself to identify with the world. The American church wants to show its 'worldly cred' to attract people to Christ, rather than shining the light of the Gospel to induce conviction and repentance.
In practice, this ultra-contemporary 'relevance' gospel encourages young people to imitate the world. After all, they won't get any of their friends to join them at church if they are viewed as boring, rule-following stiffs. This leads to kids placing a high value on cultural popularity. And what is that if not sacrificing our kids to the gods of this world? We're not only passing them through the fire, we're DELIVERING THEM TO HELL.
We know that in the end there will be those who will call out to God and claim to be His. But God will say, “depart from me you workers of lawlessness, for I don't know you.” This is a desperately important issue. Nothing could be more vital or relevant than the true Gospel if we really hold the faith we claim. And if so, we shouldn't elevate cultural relevance, as if the unvarnished truth of God's judgment for their rebellion isn't motivation enough.
Imagine Ezekiel or Jesus walking into your church. What would they say? Would Ezekiel see the apathetic, immodest young people ignoring what little scripture is read or mulling around while some empty Christian rock blares from a speaker and conclude that these are children of zealous, God-fearing parents? Would Jesus see the books for sale, the coffee shop selling treats, the sermons for sale, the tickets for concerts and not be driven to tip over the coffee stands, book shelves and ticket counters? Is your church a house of prayer? Is God the subject of reverent awe? Or are you showing up late in your most comfortable, casual clothes to be entertained with clever speakers and fun, contemporary music?
As a side note, the “style” of the music is really secondary to the fact that what passes as contemporary music is empty of any sound theological lyrics. But the style is important. In American society, regardless of whether you live in the south, north, east, west or mid-west, formal, respectful music has a manner and tone. Similarly, rock concerts have a tone, too. If one is invited to a formal affair, they would know that they need to dress in a suit. In fact, they would want to. Conversely, if one is invited to a rock concert with a tailgate party, more casual dress is in order. No one is really confused about style and appropriate response. Except when it comes to the modern church.
The reason is that the church in America has turned away from the pursuit of holy living and majored on pleading with the culture around it. Many church leaders have been deceived into believing that God is not sovereignly powerful enough to draw his elect to Himself (in fact, many churches do not believe in the elect. Or if they do, they twist it for their own pride). Since they do not trust in God's sovereignty, they believe they need to wrangle people into churches for God. In their vain attempt to build something for God, they use worldly methods and divide the body of Christ into separate services and age-segregated groups. As our Lord said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe our modern church has succumbed to the Devil's deception. Satan wants the Body of Christ divided. Satan wants us diminishing God's fearsome nature. Satan wants us abandoning fervent worship and personal devotion to holiness.
We need to return to the roots of our faith and a zealous desire to serve God in holy submission.

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6 comments:

  1. Bryn, you've made some great observations here; welcome back to the blog! For your next post (or maybe you can point me to a different post or site?) can you share some of the marks of a healthy, properly focused church?  That is, if this is the half-empty side of the church glass, what does the half-full side look like?  Some signs are in here (e.g. I'd assume intergenerational worship with an intentionally reverent attitude, for one) but I'd love to know more about how we can discern the good in addition to avoiding the bad.  Thoughts or suggestions?

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  2. Hey, Eric,

    I'd say that there's no "half-full" church, just like there's no thriving lukewarm church. The concept is odious to God. In this post, I'm pointing out the way in which the church in America has abandoned true faith in favor of "cultural relevance." It amounts to superstition. No different than the legalist who believes in rules and proper behavior to save him.

    A healthy church will be humble, reverent, loving and preach a clear Gospel of repentance of sin, submission to a Holy God with fear and trembling. Then, knowing that the only hope for a person's soul is to be covered by Christ's sacrifice on the cross to be reconciled to God the Father. But before any of that can happen, a person cannot feel they have anything good inside. And that's where many popular pastors go dangerously wrong. They've removed the idea of "sin" and "repentance" and "judgment." Without those realities, no one will see the need for Jesus' sacrifice. If Jesus died on the cross simply to provide us an "example of love" then it really falls short of the power that would make us fervently loyal to Him.

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    1. I think you're spot-on that "If Jesus died on the cross simply to provide us an 'example of love' then it really falls short of the power that would make us fervently loyal to Him." That's a frustratingly common view of Jesus' sacrifice and, while it has some Biblical roots (e.g. John 15:13, if you pull it out of context), it's so incomplete that I really don't think it can count as "Gospel" anymore.

      My glass-half-full metaphor failed here because it's hard to linguistically distinguish between "a church" vs. "the church in America" (which is really just "the average or typical church in the United States" since we can't point to something like the "Church of England" here) vs. "Christ's Church" as the One True Body. Since I know you're not arguing that the Holy Spirit is completely absent from every church in our nation -- if so, then we'd better move! -- that means there are individual church communities that are truly following Him, and those that aren't. So, we can look at the glass both as half-empty (focusing on those who have it wrong) and as half-full (focusing on those who have it right)... though the old cliché falls short since I fear that far, far fewer than 50% of U.S. churches meet the standard of a healthy church.

      Anyway, I appreciate the insight on both sides –- discerning what to avoid, and what to seek. Thanks!

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    2. Yes, I see what you mean by the glass half-full -- focusing on the healthy churches. But what I'm seeing as the Evangelical Church in America is more the "Christian Culture" driven by the mega-churches and what passes for Christian literature and books. There are very good ones out there. I like James MacDonald and he pastors a mega-church. Piper has a lot of good stuff, too... also a mega-church pastor. So, I'd say there are certainly good examples among the bad.

      That's always the case, though. There were 7,000 that had not bowed a knee to Baal. But it didn't make Elijah's message any less needed.

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  3. Wow. Your comment about Christians refuting the belief they are worshipping themselves rather than God all the while catering to their own tastes really hit me like a ton of bricks. It's way too easy to make churh about us, isn't it? Especially in protestant mecca here where we have a church on every corner. Thank you for the challenge to keep the focus solely on God--for the sake of our children if not our neighbors and ourselves.

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    1. It's a VERY hard walk, examining ourselves all the time. It's so easy, like for Israel, to fall into human-centered religious routine. Where is our fear of the Lord? We should tremble in awe. Thanks for reading!

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