Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Needs Revived?

Some things that divide Christians are not obvious ones found in doctrinal statements but more subtle mindsets that work behind the scenes. One such issue was the shift from traditional Protestantism to Revivalism. This was not simply a shift from carnality to spirituality, but between two ways of viewing spirituality.

This change resulted from a shift in the character of western society. There was a movement from an avowedly Christian society to a superficially Christian, secular society. Under the older situation the church was seen as a normal fixture of the society, and the majority of the nation were seen as part of it. Therefore, it saw its main function as indoctrinating those under its care in the truth of God and incorporating them into the organizational church. Under this system there existed those with a genuine faith in Christ and a desire to serve Him. But others grew up in the church, learning its teachings and rituals by rote, without saving faith. Also, there was a tendency for a church so deeply imbedded in society to become conformed to the world. But the biggest problem was that as society secularized, there was a departure from Biblical Christianity, which left many with, at best, a nominal adherence to it. They were left with a crowd to convert, rather than a congregation to instruct.

To meet this challenge there was a shift away from an emphasis on corporate identity to one of individual response. This emphasized people's inner experiences, both in terms of conversion and of spiritual growth. I am convinced that this was a shift that was necessary to deal with the superficial Christianity of the day. The problem was that, like many originally necessary corrections, it proceeded too far in the opposite direction. It frequently overemphasized experience and individualistic piety over established teaching and corporate commitment. It often resulted in concentrating on subjective experience for reassurance of one's salvation or spirituality. This frequently led to false self-confidence or perpetual doubting. It is tempting to say we need a position in the middle (and I believe, in some sense, this is right), but this can lead to a tame mediocrity with neither intellectual vigor nor committed passion.

I am convinced that the answer is the Cross. Understanding that God became a man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9,10) to pay the price for sins (1 Peter 2:24-25; Colossians 2:13,14; Romans 5:8), is a profound intellectual concept with deep implications. It also calls for a community to preserve it and to instruct and establish people in it (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 2:19). But it also calls for an individual response of faith (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9: 1 John 5:11-13) and obedience (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). This opposes the idea that it is adequate simply to be part of the right group or to go through the motions of worshiping God (Matthew 7:20-23: Malachi 1:10; Romans 9:6). It is focused on Christ that we find the right balance.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Mike! I thought the way you portrayed the shift in religious cultures was very insightful.