Monday, November 17, 2014

Abandoned in Spirit

image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of, picture uploaded by Zac Allan
Ed Stetzer was unable to physically attend the Exponential conference in person.  But he recorded a brief talk that stuck with me. At least in spirit, if not all the exact words.  And it struck at the heart of some other things that have been on my mind recently.  So, we'll start with what Ed Stetzer talked about and take a side trip to a couple of other things.

If you're new enough to Christianity and you possibly may be unfamiliar with the name Ed Stetzer,  he's a well known author, speaker, pastor, and church planter.  His more recent experience has been in the academic realm.  And his talk sounded like it. But he had one main point and he made it well.  Let's take a look.

“When cultural Christianity declines, biblical Christianity has a chance to shine.” -- Ed Stetzer

It's actually the reverse of that statement that got me digging for today's illustration.  It's an abandoned church in New Mexico.  Maybe the building no longer suited the congregation.  Maybe they couldn't afford to keep a committed pastor.  Or, as sometimes happened in the southwest, perhaps whatever drew them there no longer supported the people and the whole town, individually or en masse, moved elsewhere.  No town, no ranches, no church.  The result for the church was it became an abandoned shell.

Ed Stetzer described "cultural Christianity" as services filled with people calling themselves Christians, but having no real connection with God.  They might visit church once a week because they grew up in a Christian family.  Or they consider themselves Christian because they're in a Christian country.  Garrison Keillor, humorist and host of the "Prairie Home Companion" radio program, described that best when he said, “Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.”.

The reality of the North American church is that many of its buildings are mostly filled with people who really don't have a relationship with God.  They're people marking time and going through the motions.  Or there's some social or business benefit to claiming Christianity.  But there's no foundation of Biblical Truth.  Even scarier is the fact that the preacher can sometimes be one of those, in that position because it's a respected job.  Forget about it being a calling from God.  Which brings me to some interesting thoughts.

Every religion has documents that they consider special or holy, depending on whether or not they talk about one or more gods or they are more into philosophical self reliance.  In order to be a follower of a given religion, the believer accepts that religion's documents as being totally true.  If not, then claims of being a believer certainly come into question.  And that's where things get interesting, especially in some non-Christian religions.

We're all familiar with the Islamic extremists known as ISIS or ISIL or any of the multitude of Al Qaeda affiliates and variations.  They will kill non-Muslims and, in fact, those who are not the right kind of Muslim.  And there are passages in the Quran that they point to in support of their actions. And they're correct in their interpretation, even though it's the wrong book.  A number of Westerners agree with one of the Saudi officials who was upset that anyone would suggest that there's such a thing as a moderate Muslim.  But they and he miss one important point,

Islam has the same problem that Christianity does, there are cultural Muslims.  Many who claim to be Muslim will go through the rituals, much like a Sunday Christian does, but then live the rest of the time as if there was no religion.  And what we call moderate Muslims are those who really are only going through the motions.  That's good for us who might otherwise be on the receiving end of some pretty nasty attitudes.  But, in a way, it's also sad.  Whether Christian or Muslim, we're suggesting a major percentage have no real interest in connecting with God.

There's one other group of people claiming to be Christians, but questioning the errancy and fallibility of the Bible.  In other words, the accuracy of the documents and whether the Word is really Truth with a capital T.  Yes, there are variations in the Greek and Hebrew documents we have.  But consider that we accept copies created further from the time of Shakespeare and with more errors as accurately depicting what Shakespeare wrote.  So, why the different standard by some for the Bible?

There is, of course, the idea that deviating from Biblical Christianity is only to support a sinful lifestyle.  But that's really too simplistic.  There are those who live a "good" life, some possibly morally better than you and I.  The first thing to go is the idea of Hell.  And many who do that also say they believe that Jesus is God, but He came to show us how to live on earth.  That's an awfully petty reason for coming to earth compared to what the Bible says He came to do.  It demotes Jesus from God to moral teacher.

I'm not going to go into all the Biblical arguments about Hell.  That's for another time when that's our focus.  But consider a few Bible verses.

Isaiah 64:6-7 (KJV)  But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Our righteousness is described as unclean.  I won't, this time, go into how unclean.  That's not the point.  But this passage describes fading like an autumn leaf and being blown around by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).  And then, despite being battered and tossed about, none call on God.  When we go to the end of the Bible, it gets more interesting.

Revelation 3:15-16 (KJV)  I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Is it just me or does Revelation 3, in those verses, seem to describe cultural Christianity -- lukewarm.  And God's saying He finds that distasteful.  Lukewarm gets spit out.  And there's still more.

2 Timothy 3:5 (KJV)  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

"A form of godliness".  People taking on the appearance of godliness, but having no spiritual substance.  And God wants us to have that same sense of distaste that He has for it.  But remember what Ed Stetzer said.  “When cultural Christianity declines, biblical Christianity has a chance to shine.”  Yes, there will always be those who, to some degree, reject God's leadership, But God called the rest of us to evangelize and disciple.  So, there will also always be some who, despite Isaiah 64:6-7, will jump right to verse 8.

Isaiah 64:8 (KJV)  But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

Are you ready to let Biblical Christianity shine and reap the blessings of being molded by God, today?

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