Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are We the Most Spiritual Time In Church History?

Is this time in which we live the most spiritual time in the history of the Christian church? This may seem like a strange question, but think about it. There have been many groups in the past two hundred years of the church who have claimed to have discovered the secret to genuine spirituality. But if this is so, then our time should not only be more spiritual, but markedly more spiritual. Does this accord with the facts?

Now the ultimate authority is Scripture, and I am convinced it teaches the Holy Spirit is at work in all genuine believers (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 3:2). But it does seem relevant to ask whether the history supports this position. Now there are good examples and bad examples in all of church history, but it seems hard to see the present age as particularly exemplary. My initial impression is that we live in a generally fairly worldly and superficial condition of the church, but perhaps I am wrong. But it becomes even harder when I am forced to regard previous ages as totally carnal. Did all the Christian martyrs after the very early days and before recent times bravely face death, without any help from the Holy Spirit? Were Athanasius and Hilary of Poitiers able to stand against the Emperor and the whole world in defense of the Deity of Christ, without the help of the Holy Spirit? Did Patrick go back to a people who had enslaved him (that is, the Irish) to bring them the message of Christ, without the help of the Holy Spirit? Did Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin, along with their predecessors John Wycliffe and John Hus and all their followers face the power of the Catholic Church under threat of death to defend the idea of salvation by faith alone, without the help of the Holy Spirit? Did William Carey start the missionary movement, without the help of the Holy Spirit? And if they did, what have we done today that so obviously eclipses them?

There are ways to try to get around this. You can try to tie spirituality to one particular issue (all of us have blind spots) or to some superficial quality. You can try to claim the more prominent people followed your formula even if there is no record of it, perhaps without consciously realizing it. (One has to question the necessity  of a secret formula if so many can follow it unconsciously.) Now if I really believed the Scripture taught such a formula, I would be forced to accept some such explanation. But I am glad I do not have to.


  1. I wonder if the mark of this era is the rise of the personal aspects of the faith as in a personal relationship with Christ. That seems to distinguish us a bit from prior eras but I am not sure that it would classify us as more spiritual.

  2. I agree that an emphasis on the personal aspects of faith is a mark of our era. This can be useful in helping avoid going through the motions of keeping rules doing rituals without an concern for building a genuine love relationship with God Himself. But there is a danger if taken to an extreme that it can result in someones faith being based on personal feelings rather then objective truth.
    But in this particular post I was speaking in regard to people who feel their group or the people who follow their technique (usually something fairly recent) are the only one's who are truly spiritual. It is that particular position I object to.

  3. I agree with you Mike. I once was one of those folks who looked down my spiritual nose at those in main line churches. These days I am a member of a Methodist Church. Methinks God has a sense of humor.

  4. I joke that I am trans-denominational as I have been connected with in some way with so many different denominations (including ones I would have once dismissed) so I have some idea where you are coming from.