Thursday, July 15, 2004

The fashionable preaching of enthusiasm

Please continue to comment on my previous posts - if you can't handle dual-topics then take a hard-pill. =) This is a large post, but it says a lot and I'm sure it will get you thinking. I will be very interested in your comments.

It is not my intent to be cynical or undermining of the church. I believe we are to be unified and support one another. And yet I also believe there is a time and a place for correction. I present this in a opinionated fashion, and I trust you have the discernment to take what is good and right and leave the bad. I present it so opinionated because I fear if I do not, you may miss any truth contained within - and I like making strong points =).

One week past Get-Smart and Hillsong, and familar stories begin to emerge... "I just feel so flat now"; "I've been really low, and I just can't seem to get on with the day to day"; "I was so sure my life was radically transformed, but now I feel just the same as I did before".

It seems the church has become accustomed to such phenomena. In fact, people talk how we can "maintain the momentum" from "spiritual" conferences, as though all we need is more enthusiasm. And yet, it seems few compare the effects of modern conferences with the preaching and meetings of the Acts church, and indeed the preaching less than a century ago. We do not need more enthusiasm, we need more obedience.

What is the purpose of modern conferences? What is their focus? What do they seek to achieve, and what means to they use?

Which is of greater power, leaving a conference feeling empowered to change the world for Jesus, or leaving with Words of truth blazing in your spirit so brightly both you and the world cannot ignore it? Is it Biblical to focus on becoming "people of influence", instead of being the humble obedient servants of the Lord, to whom all praise and honour is due?

People feel flat after modern conferences due to the lack of Biblical teaching. Listen to what is preached, and too often you will hear the same kind of thing. We are so used to it now, that when someone preaches it from a slightly different angle we are amazed and consider it revelation. We have grown so complacent toward it, we do not stop and think what other things we could be hearing. Certainly, though, the Spirit in His grace will still speak to those who listen, and still heal those who ask. The mere fact that those attending conferences get on their knees and pray, and take the time to listen more than they usually do is, I fear, sometimes the only time the Spirit can speak to them. It is no wonder such people think the conference was powerful, if it was the first words they had with God for some time!

There are great "communicators", as they are known today, who work up within the listener a fit of emotion. Excitement and happiness, emotions are powerful while they are felt. Yet, when emotions fade away, only words remain, and unless those words are Truth that sets us free and stirs in our hearts a longing after God's own heart, only words they will always remain. This is the reason many feel flat after conferences, for their minds clear and they realised their hearts have changed little, and so their thoughts change little, and so their lives change little.

Satan also uses emotion, emotions like jealosy, rage, and lust - He needs to use emotion to influence us because he cannot back up what he suggests with words of Truth. But Truth; the power of the Word of God. God does not need to try and instill in us anything except for His Word, for real spiritual excitement is born from obedience to His Word upon the heart. Truth and obedience, not enthusiasm, changes lives. To illustrate, how can we continue to drive only in second gear once we know there are more gears to our car? And why would we continue to stumble over our furniture if we know there is a light in the room? Why would we continue in sinful in ways when a better way is made known to us? Indeed, when the Truth enters us, we truely are changed. We may be excited and inspired by inspiring yet empty words for a few days, but the Word gives us so much more! How much more excited and full of rejocing would we be if after a year, the Truth we heard has turned our life around? This is the test, then; a powerful message is proven over time, in the hearts of those who hear it, not by how excited people are to hear it said.

The Holy Spirit is not the spirit of enthusiasm. What a great mistake to confuse the two! How wrong it is to think that if a speaker stirs sufficient emotion, the heart is surely forever changed. The great fashion of stirring emotion within the church probably achieves nothing but clouding its vision and creating such a clamour that it overpowers the quiet but mighty voice of God. The preaching in vogue is so greatly focused on what we can do, and so little attention is paid to who we are; it places such emphasis on our works, and so precious little on God and the condition of our own hearts. Such popular preaching may make us think we are forever changed to 'impact' and 'influence' the world, but it is not our opinion that matters. Yet, if a speaker brings Words that cut and shape our very heart, then we do not need to merely think we are changed - we will know!

How common is the preaching that everybody likes to hear! This sort of preaching is full of entertaining stories and wit, and brings smiles to those who hear it. This sort of preaching makes people feel better about themselves, and encourages them to think they can "do great things for God." Oh, what great men and women of God they will think they can be, and what little they are told of what it takes.

Now it is true, God can use the least of us. In fact, God opposes the proud. God uses the humble, the broken person. The least is the greatest in the Kingdom. And yet, all we ever seem to hear is preaching that calls us to be great, and little is said about service and sacrifice and forfieting our own agendas to serve only God. No, it seems 'good preaching' is deemed so if it is enjoyed. Yet, the preaching everybody likes to hear is most often not the preaching they NEED to hear. For the preaching the church needs to hear would open its eyes to how powerless it has become, by trying to change the world when it is themselves that first need changing! The sort of preaching the church needs would cut it to the heart, and bring a wave of repentance and earnest seeking of God Himself. It would call the church to be servants rather than heroes for the kingdom. Surely, it would put Jesus back in the position He rightfully deserves - as the head of the Church and not as the cure for our problems. Surely, the preaching the church needs would humble the church, for it has become proud and confident in its own programs and seminars and eloquent story-telling.

Most good preaching does not always makes us feel good at the time - we feel good once we have obeyed it and experienced the joy that comes from obedience to the Word of God. Surely, such joy lies far deeper than our emotions.

Why is it that modern preaching bears so little resemblance to what it had 50 years ago? Not simply in style, but in content? There are many differences in the messages preached. Gone are sermons on the need for repentance and fear of the Lord, the Judgement of God and the Law. Sermons in vogue are on the Love of God, and how God wants to use us and change the world. Such new preaching seems all well and good, but there is little good in knowing how much God wants to use us while not being told what is required for Him to do so. When was the last time we were convicted and cut to the very heart by a sermon? Look at Jesus' teaching, look in Acts, learn of the preaching that brought great revival to New Zealand only a few decades ago. It does not take enthusiasm to bring revival, it takes obedience. Enthusiasm and motivational talks do not cause obedience, rightousness and humility - it is the other way around! If we began to truely seek God in obedience, humility and rightoueness - then surely God would move. Surely we would be excited about what God is doing - instead of always getting excited about 'what God is going to do'.

It is time the church stopped pretending, and took a good look at the true state of itself. How strongly does the church hunger and thirst for righteousness? No, most of the church is content to have rightouesness as an after-dinner mint after eating and drinking their full of their own self-rightousness! How often does the church pray earnesly? What is the church truely focussed on, is it becoming the likeness of Christ, or is it on feeding itself? How much an emphasis is placed on getting more people in church, and yet there are so many luke-warm 'Christians' in the church perhaps it would be better if the church had less! Yes, God surely has just the same thoughts toward luke-warm Christians now as He did during the early church. How very much greater a pure and righteous church would be than the mud-filled water of self-righteous and self-seeking people in quenching the thirst of a dry and barren world in need not of programs, inspiration and enthusiasm, but of the Word of God.


Mike said...

w00t! I get first comment!

Wow, theres a lot of stuff in there - kudos for typing such a long post :) Not sure what i thinkl about a lot of it - I think the Bible is very important, but I don't think it should be the ONLY influence on the church.

Ill probably post more once I have had a chance to read it again and get my head around most of it. :)

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan said...

Good post!

Zeal without knowledge is worthless. And people need to be doers, and not just hearers of the word. And other stuff...

Good on ya

Fraser Dron said...

I agree. But it sounds better for you to say this stuff, since you go to a New Life church. :P

Jessi said...

Great post Reuben :)

I think there needs to be a balance of biblical and spiritual teaching... the "zeal" without the Word is useless, just as the Word without the passion for it makes it much harder to help bring others to faith.
I don't think people are teaching the bible as well as they should... I'm finding in church that a lot of sermons are more opinion and less of reading the actual Word- I'm finding I don't really even need to bring my bible 90% of the time to find passages :P And I don't consider that a good thing.

Ruth said...

yup. great post! big ups to you.