Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Doctrine has Become Head of the Church

This says what I have been thinking better than I can. This is from Jim Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.

“In too many churches today, people don’t see manifestations of God’s power in answer to fervent praying. Instead, they hear arguments about theological issues that few people care about. On Christian radio and television, we are often merely talking to ourselves.

What we are dealing with today is an Old Testament ‘vow religion’ comprised of endless repetitions and commands to do all the right things. Modern preachers, like Moses, come down from the mount calling for commitment. Everyone says yes but then promptly breaks the vow within two days. There is little dependence on God’s power to make an ongoing difference. There is little calling upon God to revolutionize us in a supernatural way.

Jesus is saying today, as He said to the church at Sardis, ‘You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God…But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev. 3:1-3,6)

Isn’t it remarkable that only two of the seven churches of Revelation (Pergamum and Thyatira) were scolded for false doctrine? Far more common was lack of spiritual vitality, of fervency, of closeness to the Lord. These are what the glorified Christ wanted to talk about most.

I am not advocating melodrama or theatrics that work up emotion. But I am in favor, as were the apostles, of asking God to stretch out His hand and manifest himself.

(He goes on) If we do not yearn and pray and expect God to stretch out his hand and do the supernatural, it will not happen. That is the simple truth of the matter. We must give him room to operate. If we go on, week after week, filling the time with religious lectures and nothing more, God has little opportunity in which to move.

So as long as we are busy polishing our oratory, the stage is entirely ours. Listen to the reproof of the great prophet of prayer E.M. Bounds more than a hundred years ago:

'Among things that hinder spiritual results, fine preaching must have place among the first. Fine preaching is that kind of preaching where the force of the preacher is expended to make the sermon great in thought, tasteful as a work of art, perfect as a scholarly production, complete in rhetorical finish, and fine in its pleasing and popular force.

In true preaching, the sermon proceeds out of the man. It is part of him, flowing out of his life. Fine preaching separates between the man and the sermon. Such sermons will make an impression, but it is not the impression that the Holy Ghost makes. Influence it may have, but the influence is not distinctly spiritual, if spiritual at all. These sermons do not reach the conscience, are not even aimed at it.'"

I have come to believe that the sermon has wrongly taken preeminence in the modern church. Why do we think that we must hear a lecture 3 times a week in order to grow? Not only that, but we only get one man's opinion on Biblical interpretation.

I can no longer go to a Sunday morning church service without being troubled by the impression that is given that we are doing something spiritual merely by attending. Where is the one-anothering in that?


Alison Fincher said...

But I think we are doing something spiritual merely by attending church. Christ says that He will be in our midst whenever two or more are gathered in his name. There is an inherent good in meeting together as a Christian community.

Of course, whether the way we spend our time when we are so assembled could be put to better use is another interesting question which you raise. The emphasis on the sermon or homily is a fairly modern one that doesn't necessarily work in all contexts. What do you think we ought to do instead?

And you're right. It is nice to read Biblical texts and commentaries and to hear many preachers to get a more balanced perspective.

Aida said...

I agree, John. While the Bible tells us to not forsake assembling together, it matters a whole lot what we do when we assemble. The preceding verse tells us we should encourage one another towards love and good works.

If our assembling together doesn't promote this in the attendants, then it seems obvious to me that we are not really fulfilling the purpose of gathering.

I was talking to my sister yesterday and we both agreed that after a time, it should become unnecessary to hear a weekly lecture. I believe after a while, we're supposed to graduate and become the church instead of always just "going to church."

John Fincher said...

That may be the case for you (i.e. "doing something spiritual merely by attending church") but no longer for me.

I guess it depends on your definition of "church". Is it a concert and a lecture? For me, no. Is it a series of rituals? For me, no.

I am looking for a group of Christians with whom I can live out my life in Christ. No heirarchy, no "order of service", no tradition - just Jesus.

Thanks for commenting. I consider my "small group" more church than the service we attend afterwards.

Mark Hollingsworth said...

It is true that the people are the church and we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. I assume that it's just what happens at church that is bothering you. Is that true? I have read both of the authors that you mentioned. I think that both of them would not say stop going to church but make sure that the church is really there and church really happens. And yes alot of that has to do with the pastor. Some do preach a sermon that is mechanical and not really Spirit powered because it is from him and not God. I love E. M. Bounds book, "The Preacher and Prayer" because almost every sentence is a classic quote. He speaks of unction from God and that is important in making the so-called "service" a real meeting with God and each other. That's what we need and I think Cymbala was saying the same thing.
Thanks for your post,

John Fincher said...

Thank you for your comment. I will look up EM Bounds and check him out.

Like I have shared before here, I was in the same church (an Independent Baptist Church) for 17 years, a deacon and then chairman of the deacons for the last 10.

I began to ask myself why the tradition that really was not in the Bible was considered sacrosanct (i.e. 3 services a week, a sermon each service, solemn/ritualized Lord's supper, etc.). Father has answered these questions for me in various ways.

One of the best was Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola.

I would just want you to define what "going to church" means. What is church?

Please show me in the Bible where we get how we now operate in the modern, traditional church. Today's pastor is nowhere seen in the pages of the new testament. He has evolved over the years and, I believe, usurping the role that God reserved for the whole body.

I am not challenging your beliefs, I am just stating the questions that have been in my heart for some time.

If you will read my reply to Alison (who is also my neice :-)), you will see what I am lookin for.

Grace and Peace to you.