Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Refiner's Fire Today

As a backdrop for what I will share in this post you need to watch this.

Both Mrs. Tickle and Peter Rollins are emergent leaders and are friends and guest speakers at Mars Hill Church where Rob Bell is pastor.

Please do not tell me you do not feel it. If you cannot sense that something deeply spiritual is happening than you are not even close to the fire, and in fact you may be oblivious to it all. This move of the Spirit is beneath the surface and has yet to present itself as an observable phenomenon. Those of us that have been touched by the unmistakable calling have been thirsty for some time, and we have seen and heard all the new movements which purport to be the “next” move of God’s Spirit in the church. It cannot be denied that the evangelical church in America has become consumed by western culture and have satisfied their insatiable desire for hedonism by constructing evangelical formats that excite and fulfill a niche in a well rounded western lifestyle.

The evangelical construct has moved substantially away from being Christo-centric in practice and pursuit, to a model that is centered on the fulfillment of our present lives. From politics to family to finances to self esteem, the message of the gospel has become an appendage and not the absolute core. Of course most of the church would strongly suggest that we do place Christ first, but in practice and orthopraxy we have moved substantially away from pursuing Christ and His kingdom in our communities of faith.

Listen to the message themes, read the schedule of weekly activities, and notice what consumes the average believer’s life. Our church houses are prayerless shells that provide a place of meetings and activity, but many times lost in all that are the spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth and apprehension of Jesus Christ. How is it that the professing body of Christ can live without Him, or even live satisfied with what little they know of Him experientially?

And like pounding the bottom of an empty bottle of ketchup, the church continues to pound and pound the same wineskins hoping to get the last remaining drop of wine from the bottom of the same construct we’ve always used. We have succeeded on some level to cultivate a community of people who have a basic agreement in the Christian faith; however we’ve done it on the strength of organizing, buildings, activities, and the personality of the main preacher. But evangelical churches meet and exist by the scores in almost every city throughout America, tucked away nicely amidst a hedonistic and hollow culture, and yet without making any noticeable impact on their surroundings.

Where is this new and glorious life we say dwells within us? Why did the resurrection life of Jesus Christ overflow through the early apostles, but that life sometimes goes no further than the local church membership roles today? What if 10,000 people were transported to heaven for 5 years and were allowed to worship the Risen Christ and bask in His presence? And what if that same band of saints were given back their earthly bodies and delivered back into our midst again? Do you believe that their testimony and their lives would bear any resemblance to what passes as the church today?

Jesus Christ, the heart of the gospel, has either become a doctrinal issue to be discussed and argued over, or He is to be removed from a place of prominence in the “gospel” message giving way to acts of humanitarianism. Think again on those 10,000 saints that have spent the last five years in the presence of the Risen Christ, what message do you suspect they would preach? Would Jesus be the absolute life force of their preaching and would He be the goal of their living emulation? How is it, how indeed can it be, that millions of people in our communities claim to have the Eternal Savior living and abiding within their very being and yet the substantial revelation of such wondrous truth remains so tepid and unremarkable?

Is the power of Jesus Christ so impotent that His real and actual presence here on earth projects little more than one religion among many? And when the singular life of Jesus in His incarnate revelation was so powerful and so unique that His story continues to be told through the centuries, how can it be that those who claim to be following Him are so ordinary and insignificant within a culture that is devoid of the Spirit of God? Something is wrong, profoundly wrong.

Against that unexceptional reality of the Christian church, many have become disillusioned about continuing in that same hollow vein and they have set out to find deeper meaning to their Christian experiences. And so some have either openly rejected the Biblical truths of the Christian faith or they have instituted such a new and philosophical vocabulary that it is impossible to align it with basic gospel truth and it projects a fresh enigmatic way of saying nothing while pretending to say something. Riddles and parables and stories are at the heart of these new constructs of Christianity while the redemption of the cross of Christ is strikingly absent or at least reduced to an example of sacrifice for the needs of the people of the world. In short these new and emergent teachings have one major commonality, the outright focus away from the redemption provided by Christ’s cross for the sins of the world and the personal message of Christ’s eternal salvation.

The core of the emergent movement is a transfer of spiritual focus and calling from the actual gospel of Jesus Christ to a new expression of Christianity that is a bloodless ministry to the earthly needs of the world’s sinners. Religious philosophy is their Bible and their spiritual community includes non-Christian religions. Most American evangelicals remain so Biblically illiterate and so spiritually unconcerned that they will not be interested in becoming educated as to what is happening to say nothing of being concerned. For the most part we are concerned with ourselves and the prosperity and safety of the nation in which we live. But the real enemy has come, not in planes and tanks, and not with weapons of mass destruction, but he has come as a spiritual farmer and is busy sowing seeds of deception that grow and are eaten by unsuspecting sinners and saints alike.

And some of those who are deceived are eloquent and sincere, and they speak with a literary prowess that is wrapped in an effervescent philosophy that touches our human sensibilities but remains distant from invading the fields that the Holy Spirit desires to reach and change. The emergent movement has not just changed the approach, they have changed the message. While few would demand a King James verbiage, there must be at least a recognizeable communication of the gospel narrative. And even some who when pressed would utter some involuntary alignment with Biblical Christianity, hide the gospel away from the ears and hearts of those who follow their ministries. And many good men, men of God who sincerely desire to serve Christ, have been blinded to this deception. All this, dramatic and unmistakable, is happening with little notice from the body of Christ.

But what about those who resist these unbiblical intrusions? This is where the battle must begin, but not with whom we might think. It is true that we must expose and confront false teachings, especially in today’s compromised religious landscape, but the real battle will be with us. In some corners they exclude themselves from the spiritual fight, refusing to see their own need since the extensive error in others obscures their vision of self. That is very unfortunate and leaves the work undone.

To combat the mystical onslaught we must not only identify error, we must deepen the stakes and lengthen the cords of our own spiritual tents. To be sure, spiritual revival is significantly more than rearranging the furniture in a worship service; or reinstating some ancient practice; or presenting some avante garde ideas concerning what spirituality looks like today. The silly and ridiculous philosophies are worthless and men like Peter Rollins, who holds a masters degree in philosophy, say nothing in very creative and thought provoking ways. In the end he says nothing that can be remotely considered Biblical.

We are entering a new dark age in Christianity and men like Rob Bell who continue to gain notoriety are providing platforms for teachers like Doug Paggit, Phyllis Tickle, and Peter Rollins. This is not some game and it surely is not to be ignored. Churches all over the nation are watching and listening to these people and are believing they teach a new way to communicate redemptive Christianity. And when questioned about being more clear, they and their supporters strongly defend their words as orthodox and Biblical without the open evidence that would support that defense. Little phrases or obscure sentences still shrouded in uncertainty and doctrinal intangibles are usually what pass for evidence of their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The way of Jesus” or “Following Jesus” or other nice sounding words have replaced the “Repent and believe the gospel” call for which many in years past have died.

I am not sure what is possible at this late date, but I do know that just rejecting and exposing these false teachers will never stem any tide, and in the end God will require much more at our hands. Perhaps the horse is already out of the barn, however we as individuals can still glorify our Father by a deeper and more passionate devotion to follow Jesus Christ. Exposing error is infinitely easier than living truth. Three years ago I would ask a fellow believer what he thought about the emergent movement and most would not even be aware that there was such a thing. And I would ask about MacLaren or Bell or Paggit and most had never heard of these men. Today mainstream evangelical churches are using Bell’s material and leasing buses to attend his tours.

You may desire to continue to sleep but your faith will be taken from you while you slumber. This end time falling away has been predicted by the Apostle Paul himself, and yet the church seems passive and unconcerned. Our own spiritual lives are so indifferent and undemonstrative, and many consider political involvement as proof of the depth of their discipleship. But we here in America have been devoured by this hedonistic western culture, even from the most orthodox reformed to the most seeker sensitive format. We are more concerned about proving our Calvinistic credentials that we are about all night prayer meetings and extended gatherings of repentance. Many churches are places of entertainment rather than sukkots of God’s presence.

We need more than harsh words that attack men’s persons; we need more than redundant examples of doctrinal mischief; and we need more than a continuing stream of discernment that beats the same doctrinal horse without ever addressing our own spiritual malnutrition. We need to receive strong rebukes aimed at our own powerless situation that so often exists unnoticed in a godless community. Being politically conservative has proven to be worthless in God’s kingdom, and the relentless drone of talk show hosts have piped a shallow song to which so many believers have danced. These are all childish things that must be rejected in favor of the higher calling of seeking Christ with all our hearts. No longer can we afford to be sidetracked by nationalistic endeavors; the time has come to leave behind our sin and all the unnecessary weights that keep us from running the race to which we’ve been called.

Abortion continues in the millions and the church continues to believe we can stop it with legislation and education when in fact only a sweeping move of God’s eternal Spirit can invade the gospel hardened hearts of American sinners and illuminate them to their sin. And before we wield God’s judgment on lost sinners, let us take inventory among ourselves as we realize that most of the problem must be laid at our evangelical doors. It is us who have lost our saltiness, and it is us who have hidden our lights under political and denominational baskets. It is us who have blended in with the Babylonian culture and it is us who wear the garments of Babylon. It is us who feel so vindicated by preaching against the sins of the lost among us and in that we are comfortably diverted from addressing our own sins. We cannot even hear God’s voice that says to Joshua, “Get up from off your face” because we are not even on our faces. Tens of millions of believers exit the morning gatherings on Sunday with dry eyes and with smiles directed at each other as they make their way to dine sumptuously and perhaps catch the soon beginning sports event. And we claim we have just done business with the Creator God. Who indeed are we fooling?

The world believes this is all there is to Christianity because this is all they’ve seen. And our children have been raised in an atmosphere of playtime and fellowship, but they not only have not seen the power of God move through drastically desperate believers, they do not even realize that such a thing is possible. And should Jesus tarry they will nestle down comfortably within a local assembly and hear beautiful exegetical messages that soothe the conscience and assure that nothing will change. We will continue to draw from the “us verse them” well which nourishes us with the self righteousness we crave. Billions of God’s dollars will continue to flow to secular banks and mortgage companies that support and finance the very institutions we so emphatically say we oppose.

The endless parade of “how to” sermon series will provide a Home Depot format that instructs as to how we can better our cultural existence. Believers will continue to watch more television than they do watch and pray. Night after night the church house will be dark and locked up without a hint of spiritual desperation. Prayer remains a doctrine rather than a way of life and the core of our gatherings. We, like Samson, do not even realize that we have lost our power and we have replaced the Risen Christ with an ecclesiastical mannequin. We can continue and be oblivious to the extent of our own embarrassing commitment and in so doing we pass on a legacy of spiritual impotence that presents a form of godliness but denies the power through contented human shells that dance like marionettes to ecclesiastical constructs, but are neither hot nor cold in God’s penetrating eyes.

The day is well spent and the time is far past. Awaken to the Spirit’s call to modern day Gideons that must both watch the horizon and yet drink from the river of God’s Spirit. Having read this post, or having written this post, what then is our response? Are we challenged or are we changed? Have we been stirred or resurrected? Is our Lord worth defending or is He worth living and dying for? Is our mission one that extends far outside our little evangelical cliques, and if so, where can we receive the power that is necessary to fulfill our commission?

Step into the Refiner’s fire this day and let Him melt you down and remold you completely.

Be advised, though, spiritual pain is part of the process, and humility is the ingredient that will harden your image into a useable servant of the Most High God.

The time must be now.


Sarah Puebla said...

Rick, Just wanted to let you know about our blog...

Praying for you.

Paul C said...

An absolutely excellent article - very edifying.