The Church Cannot Die: Poetic Figures, Misunderstanding, and Reality

This is taken from A.W. Tozer's book Man - The Dwelling Place of God.

Poetic Figures vs. Reality

The language of devotion has helped to create the impression that the church is supposed to be a band of warriors driving the enemy before them in plain sight and with plenty of color and drama to give a pleasing flourish to the whole thing. In our hymns and pulpit oratory we have commonly pictured the church as marching along to the sound of martial music and the plaudits of the multitude.

Of course this is but a poetic figure. The individual Christian may be likened to a soldier, but the picture of the church on earth as a conquering army is not realistic. Her true situation is more accurately portrayed as a flock of sheep in the midst of wolves, or as a company of despised pilgrims plodding toward home, or as a peculiar nation protected by the Passover blood waiting for the sound of the trumpet, or as a bride looking for the coming of her bridegroom.

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Worshipers Before Workers

4 But when d​the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, e​not because of works done by us in righteousness, but f​according to his own mercy, by g​the washing of regeneration and h​renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he i​poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that j​being justified by his grace we might become k​heirs l​according to the hope of eternal life. 

Titus 3:4-7

To teach that the filling with the Holy Spirit is given to the Christian to provide "power for service" is to teach truth, but not the whole truth.  Power for service is but one effect of the experience, and I do not hesitate to say that it is the least of several effects.  It is least for the very reason that it touches service, presumably service to mankind; and contrary to the popular belief, "to serve this present age" is not the Christian's first duty...

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What's this helmet for? I thought I only needed sandals.

I've had an image in my head for two weeks.  I don't remember exactly how it came about but I can tell you the things that birthed it.  Here's a warning in advance for anyone who is trigger-happy either way at a mention of the name of our President: I'm going to mention him first simply because I think the example is indicative of a larger trend, so I promise it will be brief and we'll move on quickly from there.

The New York Times carried an account of a town hall-style meeting that Obama did in Greensboro, NC.

"Speaking at a town hall-style meeting here before a few thousand people, Mr. Obama was asked by a young man about the role that Jesus Christ and his teachings played in Mr. Obama’s life.

He began his response with a broad statement of faith: “I’m a Christian. What that means for me is that I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins, and, uh, and, and, uh, his grace and his mercy and his power, through him, I can achieve everlasting life.”

Invoking the golden rule, he also said he believed in treating all people of all faiths (as well as non-believers) with dignity and respect, and he noted that his mother was “not a believer as I am” – but was also the kindest person he ever knew.

“I’m sure she’s in heaven,” he said.

“I think it’s very important to think that you do not have to have the same faith as me to be a moral person – there are a lot of Jewish people who are as moral, or more moral than I am, there are a lot of Muslims who are decent kind people,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t think they are any less children of God.”

My next dose of fuel came with a seeing a recent Barna Group Survey that contained these findings.

"Evidence of people’s willingness to part with church teaching was shown in other data from the survey regarding what people believe. Among individuals who describe themselves as Christian, for instance, close to half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third contend that Jesus sinned while He was on earth, two-fifths say they do not have a responsibility to share the Christian faith with others, and one-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches."

And, more alarmingly astonishing, the Barna survey contained these "implications of the research".

"The Christian faith is less of a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism. Americans are increasingly comfortable picking and choosing what they deem to be helpful and accurate theological views and have become comfortable discarding the rest of the teachings in the Bible. "

"Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views - in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study."

Now, those pieces are loaded with things we can talk about and dissect, all of it harrowing news for the Church.  I want to keep it simple and point out the combination of relativism and moralism that appears in those reflections of American Christianity.  From Obama one second having a somewhat orthodox statement of faith and changing it minutes later to deny the exclusivity of Christ, to survey findings that make plain the average Christian's combination of Biblical illiteracy and emphasis on good deeds and ethics (the result of "Deeds not Creeds"), we need to see something evolving that other, more intelligent, and articulate men have dubbed "Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism".  It's like Oprah meets good ol' American can-do spirit.

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