Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Is Your Boast?

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’”  (Jer 7:1-4)

God's people have a tendency to rely on their structures and procedures to assess or validate their practice, when they should be attending to what they were called as the Lord’s chosen.  Judah had made the fateful mistake of thinking that since the temple was still in their midst, that they were still living under a divine blessing.  Solomon’s temple had been erected approximately 350 years prior and still stood as the symbol of God’s enduring presence, which they took as a stamp of approval for their lackluster worship and overall spiritual decay.

Judah was about to be taken to task for their indiscretions, but God sent yet another prophet to warn the people to repent and amend their ways.  The people were unjust and idolatrous, thinking that if they did what was wrong and then performed the required sacrifice, all was well.  In other words, they believed that performance of the act satisfied for the sin.  God called the people to consider what he had already done to Israel, repent of their false assurance, and place their trust in the Lord.  The people’s continued disdain would only bring retribution upon their heads.  Though they had the example of the wilderness wanderings and the Judges, their wickedness exceeded what their ancestors had perpetrated (Jer 7:26) and deserved stricter judgment:
But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.  Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  (Luke 12:48)
Fast-forward 2700 years.  God’s people have the entirety of God's self-revelation in the cannon of scripture and high quality teaching and leadership from many venues, yet we do no better than Judah.  What do I mean?

Looking across the landscape of Christendom, one can find churches and denominations groups that champion rights across a spectrum of confessional to Bible-only; literal interpretation to postmodern deconstruction; and these can be found adhering to a form of polity which varies in liturgy from strict to free-form, music from chant to contemporary, and hierarchy from highly structured to flat.  Regardless of the make-up, one thing is usually certain: each group believes they are doing things the “right way,” basking in God’s favor.  Every local assembly of which I have been a part has felt this way.  I assume yours does as well. 

This is not an indictment against the multiplicity of denominations as much as it is against spiritual pride.  In many ways we are as guilty as Judah of old by holding up polity and programs as metrics of correctness and blessing, rather than taking stock of the spiritual condition.  Ask yourselves some questions:
  • Does the preacher tell us of our lost and sinful condition with Christ crucified as our only hope, or do you get a lesson in life skills?
  • Does Sunday School teach how God worked through men and women of faith, or do you come away with the importance of getting along with people and caring for the environment?
  • Is your small group a place where you build up one another through fellowship and prayer or a gossip/gripe session where others are torn down but you feel better about yourselves?
  • Do Bible studies work through the Bible, or are the studies taken primarily from a popular author’s latest book on how to be a better man/woman/husband/wife/parent?
  • Are the historic creeds and sound teachings of past centuries studied and used, or are the latest theological and doctrinal works consulted?
These pairings may appear to be at odds with the first-mentioned being correct and the last incorrect.  Actually, they are all good and salutary in their place.  What happens, however, is that the latter is done while the former is ignored, thus stating or inferring that is the only correct way, and “thou shalt not vary from the course.”  Over time the method becomes entrenched so that it is maintained though the individual is left languishing for lack of sound doctrine.

You and I cannot assume that because we go through the motions set in place by the assembly leadership whether in the current generation or centuries prior, that we are in growing in Christ.  That is not where we boast.  The concern should be: Am I—is my church—living before the Lord in a way that pleases him?  If not, from what should there be repentance in order to move forward in Christ and be used by him?  We learn of the the Lord, our just and merciful God, and boast in him (Jer 9:24; 1 Cor 1:31).

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Do Bible studies work through the Bible, or are the studies taken primarily from a popular author’s latest book on how to be a better man/woman/husband/wife/parent?

I think that question, especially, cuts to the core of most every group "Bible" study I've seen, including women's and men's get-togethers, let alone adult Sunday School. Every time a book is "studied" I always wonder why they call it a "Bible" study.