Thursday, March 26, 2009

Daily Dereliction

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:1-2

I still remember sitting with some friends at Bob Brady’s kitchen table and discussing ministry philosophy. Bob is one of those men whom I see as an inspiration and encouragement of what should (and should not) drive the ministry of the church. As we were talking about some of the ministry methodologies that have been used in recent church history, Bob talked about his burden to see churches make proclamation of the Word the center of their ministries (my words, not his). During the conversation, he talked of a time he interviewed Dr. John MacArthur. Bob was part of a group of men who were studying growing churches. They wanted to know what it was the churches were doing that was causing so much growth. After asking what they do in the church, Bob said that Dr. MacArthur emphatically answered, “Preach the Word, preach the Word, preach the Word!”

The conviction that the Word of God is really sufficient for all of life and godliness is not a popular one in the Church today. Many think that those who believe the Word is truly sufficient are short sighted and narrow-minded. They generally continue with the accusation that those who hold to this view of ministry want to exalt the pulpit and detract from other important ministries. While this accusation is sheer nonsense, it has taken hold in many church communities. It has gained such a strong hold that other methodologies for life change are now embraced unwittingly in the Church.

In the realm of worship, the serious in-depth preaching of the Word is being replaced by dramas, videos, corporate sharing times, and other activities that seem more appropriate for an entertainment driven culture (I am not saying all of these methods of communication are necessarily useless, just that they cannot and should not replace serious preaching of the Word of God). We now see corporate worship as a time for either fellowship or evangelistic outreach, rather than for the exaltation of Christ and the equipping of the saints through God’s Word. Too much serious biblical preaching is now seen as something that deters unbelievers from coming to church. It is also seen as something that is too serious and thus saps a sense of fellowship from the room (The preacher often hears this reflected in the comment, “You need to lighten things up a bit—that was too serious”).

In the realm of personal piety, the serious in-depth preaching of the Word is being replaced by small groups, teaching of popular books, pop-psychology, and all manner of programmed events in the church (Again, I am not saying these are necessarily useless, just that they cannot and should not replace serious preaching of the Word of God). We no longer see the Word of God as the tool the Spirit uses to effectually call and sanctify his people. We see this best represented by the constant tendency to run headlong into the latest fad for effective ministry. We often hear the Word downplayed through the accusation that corporate worship is the “most ineffective time of ministry.” While small groups and various other programs are helpful, unless the Word is the central focus, these activities are no more life changing than a group of unbelievers hanging out at Starbucks.

Contemporary Christian counseling is similarly plagued by this abandonment of the Word. The Church is assimilating secular psychology into its vocabulary of how people change with a fervor to be matched only by its sprint away from the controversy over taking a stand on biblical doctrines. The pastor is no longer supposed to be a man of the Word, but a great manager of events and a therapist. The hurting church member is no longer encouraged to employ biblical means of sanctification, but is now sent to professional counselors. I have not personally attended a marriage conference where the Bible was taught, sin was seriously discussed, and the gospel was held out as our only hope for true marital reconciliation (and I have attended about 6 marriage conferences). The shepherds are now leading the sheep away from the green pastures of God’s Word to the fast food restaurants of contemporary American evangelicalism. The sheep get their fill of food that tastes good, but that is ultimately unhealthy.

I do not believe most evangelical pastors are intentionally leading their people away from a life of true worship and godliness. Instead, I believe pastors have often bought the same bill of goods they are now selling. I have been a victim of this thinking myself (and I am sure that it penetrates my thinking in areas I don’t yet recognize). I want to be clear, however, that this is a deadly serious problem! Satan will use whatever tool he can marshal to undo God’s church. The weapon he now yields is our confidence in our own wisdom, and a correlative lack of confidence in the wisdom of God. Satan will use our own pride in the ways and ability of man to destroy us. If Satan can daily turn us from absolute dependence on the Spirit to work through the means of his Word, he will lead us into the undoing of the Church. I believe David Wells stated it best in his book, “Above All Earthly Pow’rs,” when he said,

For it is certainly the case that the Word of God, read or preached, has the power to enter the innermost crevices of a person’s being, to shine light in unwanted places, to explode myths and deceits by which fallen life sustains itself, and to bring that person face to face with the eternal God. It is this biblical Word which God uses to bring repentance, to excite faith, to give new life, to sustain life once given, to correct, nurture, and guide the Church (Jer. 23:29; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12; Jas. 1:18). The biblical Word is self-authenticating under the power of the Holy Spirit. This Word of God is the means by which God accomplishes his saving work in his people, and this is a work that no evangelist and no preacher can do. This is why the dearth of serious, sustained biblical preaching in the church today is a serious matter. When the church loses the Word of God it loses the very means by which God does his work. In its absence, therefore, a script is being written, however unwittingly, for the Church’s undoing, not in one cataclysmic moment, but in a slow, inexorable slide made up of piece by tiny piece of daily dereliction.

I want to end with a note of caution for those of us that think we have our theological ducks in a row on this issue: Be careful to practice in your life what you preach among friends who are similarly dissatisfied with the contemporary Church’s current weaknesses. It is entirely too easy to notice the speck in your brother’s eye and not notice the plank in your own. If you really believe the Word is sufficient for life and godliness, then your life will reflect a constant turning to and hunger for the Word. If your mind shouts, “yes,” to my theological argumentation but your daily dependence on the Word shouts, “no,” then repentance is more in line than finger pointing.

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