Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Anti-intellectual worship

I know it has been said before, but the modern church is very anti-intellectual in its thinking. Anything that might actually engage the mind is strictly forbidden. Everything about the church service is designed to steer the worshipper clear of that because what church goers today really want is an emotional experience. There is little, if any, sermon given, and the “praise and worship” time is drawn out to extraordinarily long proportions.

One of the most obvious ways this is shown is in the content of the songs being sung. Let’s give a little comparison between modern and not so modern…

Let the Peace of God Reign

Father of life draw me closer
Lord, my heart is set on You
Let me run the race of time
With Your life enfolding mine
And let the peace of God
Let it reign

Oh Holy Spirit, You're my comfort
Strengthen me, hold my head up high
And I stand upon Your truth
Bringing glory unto You
And let the peace of God
Let it reign

Oh Lord I hunger for more of You
Rise up within me let me know Your truth
Oh Holy Spirit saturate my soul
And let the life of God fill me now
Let Your healing power breathe life and
Make me whole
And let the peace of God let it reign

Charles Wesley’s “Arise, My Soul, Arise”
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Note the subtle, yet evident shift in focus. One speaks about the cross of Christ and how it saves men from their sins; the other speaks simply about a healing power. Now, if you were to fill in the meaning of the healing power, that it is really be the blood of the everlasting covenant, then the modern song isn’t bad. The problem is that this is one of the better songs. Most of the rest are simply a chorus that is sung over and over again. When you understand the overall philosophy of the church these days, this makes sense of course. The songs are designed to use only enough content to evoke an emotional response; really, you can put whatever meaning you want behind the healing power of God--as long as it gets you emotionally high.

Wesley’s song on the other hand is filled with Biblical references and concentrates heavily on the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. His references to history “five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary” can’t just be given whatever content you feel like. Calvary was a real place. Christ really did receive five major wounds. These references keep the worshipper’s mind engaged on what God has said and done without having to just imagine some meaning for phrases. Emotions are by no means avoided, but neither is the mind.

The Christian religion is not simply an emotional experience. To deprive it of its intellectual content is to rob it of its life changing power. It is the Jesus of the Bible that saves--the Jesus that spoke with such authority it astonished the people, the Jesus that made fools out of the Pharisees when they tried to trap him in his words. You are not called to worship the Jesus of your own imagination. You are called to worship the Jesus of the Bible, so it would probably behoove you to learn what he says.

Paul tells us in Ephesians that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” This isn’t a battle that is fought by working yourself into an emotional frenzy; this is a battle with ideas, with words, with behaviors.
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. (NKJV)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The offensive gospel

In an effort to fill churches, modern Christianity has lost much of the offense of the gospel. You see, it is much easier to tell people that Jesus is the answer to all their questions than to tell them to them to take up their cross and follow him. Taking up your cross involves work, sacrifice, and perhaps even some study--*gasp*. We must never dumb down what Christ has said in the interest of making it more appealing to the masses because the very thing that is offensive to the world is what gives hope to the people of God.

Contrary to modern evangelists, it seems that Christ sometimes presented things in the absolutely most offensive way possible.
Luke 4:23-27 He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, "Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country."' Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."(NKJV)

For the time, this was quite possibly the most offensive thing Christ could say to the Jews. They thought they were the special people of God, and they thought this was because they were somehow better than all the people around them. Christ had a way of bring out how prideful they were in just a few words. There is no doubt it got their attention as well; they were immediately filled with wrath and tried to kill Christ.
John 6:48-54 I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"

Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.(NKJV)

I am amazed every time I read this passage for it is a great illustration of an aroma of death leading to death and life leading to life. Notice how Christ doesn’t back off his words, or dumb them down, or really do anything else to make his words more appealing. No, he even makes the words more offensive as he goes along! “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son and Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Those to whom the gospel is an aroma of life unto life spiritually feast on the flesh and blood of Christ because they know that his words are spirit and they are life. Those to whom the gospel is an aroma of death don’t hang around. They leave to look for a teacher that more suits their fancy.
John 8:51-58 "Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."

Then the Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, "If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.' Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?"

Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, "I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."

Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?"

Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."(NKJV)

This is perhaps the most offensive part about the gospel: the idea that God was among them--standing there clothed in flesh and blood. They could not accept this because if it were true, that would mean they owed him worship. The way Christ speaks with them is also just blatantly offensive. First He calls them liars, and then He tells them that the greatest of their fathers rejoiced to see His day. Finally, to make it even worse, He gives himself the very name God used in Exodus 3:14. The Jews understood all too well what this meant, and they immediately tried to stone him.

In case you are inclined to think that Jesus was the only one that spoke in such offensive ways, I suggest a closer look at Galatians 5. Let me make it clear that I’m not suggesting we look for extra ways to make the gospel more offensive. The gospel is offensive as it is! Let’s just not try to water it down in the interest of attracting more people to our churches. The Word of God will make distinctions--even between people. The aroma of life will attract God’s people.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Slander to science

Here is an interesting story on Answers in Genesis’ new Creation Museum from FoxNews. There are a couple of quotes of interest.
Critics such as the Rev. Mendle Adams, pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in nearby Cincinnati, say museum leaders are twisting Bible verses to support an agenda.

"It's silly. It's a silly, silly argument," said Adams. "They use what I consider to be a flawed analysis of Scripture."

I guess by “flawed analysis of Scripture” he really means that they take the Bible at what it says when it is relating history. Or maybe he means that certain parts of the Bible just need to be superseded by science now.

"They're pretty much saying that scientists around the world have colluded to pretty much lie to people," said Dr. William Anyonge, a paleontologist and assistant professor of biology at Xavier University in Cincinnati. "I think that is really a slander to science."

“A slander to science.” If ever you doubted that science has been elevated to the status of God in our society, doubt no more! Maybe we should start capitalizing it when we speak of that which can never be wrong.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Calvin funny??

You know, I usually don’t find Calvin’s writing that humorous, but I was rereading some of his Institutes regarding infant baptism the other night. In refuting the idea that baptism is only for believing adults, Calvin says:
But I will make their fallacies palpable even to the blind, by a very plain similitude. Should any one insist that infants are to be deprived of food, on the pretence that the apostle permits none to eat but those who labour, (2 Thess. 3: 10,) would he not deserve to be scouted by all?

This example is just so far fetched it is funny to me. Who would even consider not feeding their baby because Paul said that all who don’t work are not supposed to eat? I guess sometimes the conditions are different for infants and adults--perhaps they are for baptism.