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Has the Western Church Forgotten God? CT

This weeks Christian Today article.  The original is here –  This idea struck me with force over the weekend.  I hope I have been able to convey it.

Has the Western Church Forgotten God?

Someone once said that if you took the Holy Spirit out of the Western Church, 90 per cent of what we do would carry on as if nothing had happened. As I reflected on recent sad events, and how the Church has reacted to them, it struck that there is a great deal of truth in that. And then I noticed in the Bible just how often God warns his people about the danger of forgetting Him:

“They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt.” (Ps 106:21) “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 8:14)

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.” (Isaiah 17:10)

Does a young woman forget her jewellery, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.” (Jeremiah 2:32)

We don’t really think about forgetting God. We will instinctively say “of course we remember Him”. We use the language of God all the time. But should we be so quick to dismiss the divine charge. What if it is true?

Ravi Zacharias

Take the horrible situation with Ravi Zacharias. He taught about God but surely, he forgot Him. He forgot that God is omniscient, seeing and knowing all things. He forgot that human beings are made in the image of God; therefore to abuse them, is to abuse Him. He forgot the Day of Judgement, and the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He forgot that those who are teachers will be judged more harshly. He forgot the warning of Jesus, that on the last day there would be many who will say “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and didn’t we do many wonderful things in your name?” and be told by Christ “I never knew you. Depart from me you that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22).

It’s easy to preach what we have forgotten and no longer feel.

Trump and Biden

Or what about the hope and trust that so many professing Christians put in Donald Trump (and some now in Joe Biden)? Have we forgotten that we are not to “put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3)? Have we forgotten that the Lord works by His methods, not ours?

Covid

There have been many words and declarations from Church leaders about Covid. But I suspect far more of them have just been echoes of health advice, political statements and vacuous spiritual truisms than they have been God speaking. Those who ask, ‘Is there any word from the Lord?’ are met with a deafening silence. Our priests are more politicians than prophets!

Brian McLaren

Then I read Brian McLaren’s fascinating interview with CT on his new book “Faith after Doubt”. We heard a great deal about white supremacy, American evangelicals, global warming, authenticity, belief and church – but precious little about God. Oh sure, we were given two caricature versions: the nasty controlling Deity who sends people to Hell, or the nice God of love and liberation who cares for all people. But these are more reflective of Brian’s perception of right-wing vs progressive than they are of the God of the Bible. God has been reduced to a bit player in our politics – a supporting actor for our views. We doubt Him (even if He exists) but we seem to have enormous faith in ourselves and our political views.

Sin Against God

We have so forgotten God and his precepts that we have become near-sighted and blind, forgetting we have been cleansed from our past sins (2 Peter 1:9). It was astonishing in the blame game that followed the Zacharias debacle how we struggled to mention God. David, after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband stated, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3). David had forgotten this and thus was able to excuse even the harm he had done to others – until he was creatively reminded by the prophet Nathan just who he ultimately had sinned against.

We seem emotionally, if not intellectually, to have bought into Rousseau’s version of God – “Of course he will forgive me, that is his job”. We are far too quick to say, “they have sinned” rather than “we have sinned against the Lord” (Lamentations 5:16). As a result, we not only blame others, but we think we can fix it – with our inquiries, words, restructuring, courses and consultations. Who needs the Cross?!

We have forgotten that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). We are not wise but there is a wise word from the Lord, and it is the same that was given to Jeremiah:

“I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right.

None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’

Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle.

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons,

and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.

But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:6-7)

And to Isaiah….

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us

and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, LORD, are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:6-8)

It is because we have forgotten God that we don’t know the seriousness of sin. As Richard Sibbes in preaching on Jeremiah 8:6-7 points out: “Sin defiles our souls and takes away the sweet communion with God. It puts a sting in all our troubles, grieves the Spirit of God and does more harm that everything else in the world – nothing hurts us but sin, because nothing but sin separates us from God.”

Remembering God’s Mercies

God does not tell us this to condemn us, but to cause us to flee to Christ. When the Holy Spirit tells us that “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have”, He gives us the reason: “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:4-5).

It is only when we forget God, forget his Word and reduce him to a tame god made in our own image, that we then turn away from Him and become shallow, self-obsessed, super spiritual hypocrites. If we paid more attention to what God says then surely that would do us far more good than all the pontificating of men? It is only in losing ourselves that we find ourselves.

(This following paragraph was left out in the original – my fault)..Our great comfort is that God has not forgotten us. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” (Isaiah 49:15-16). God still speaks. He does not forget. His mercies are new every morning.

In the Western Church today there is a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Maybe it’s time for us to remember, repent and be restored? The Lion has roared!

Can Systems Be Sinful – Evangelicals Now

Jesus is the Vaccine – CT

 

13 comments

  1. Well David, you know my views about church. I won’t go into detail, but a recent experience of hostility I experienced from involvement in a church had triggered me into a depression for 2 or 3 days. I think of that as an attack and it’s now become a matter of a necessity for my mental health to avoid that.

    But then that’s nothing unusual.

    I was in tears a few years ago with not what was expressed regarding same sex marriage but how it was done to the point of sharing wiht fellow dog walkers that this is not what the founder of the church is all about and shared a gospel message about Jesus with them saying that they had never heard that and all they see is arguments.

    So, following the advice I have received, I have grown a thicker skin. This advice seems consistent with what Jesus says about guarding the heart, due to the heart being precious. And you know what, I am healthier, more content and more confident as a result.

    I find a belonging within the Christian meditation community that I don’t get on a Sunday morning in a church. No-one I experience there is hostile, harsh and judgemental either overtly or passively with the silent treatment.

    Horses for courses I guess but for some who might not be finding church helpful they may find Christ being present if they look into the World Community for Christian Meditation.

    Just a suggestion.

  2. The Western Church , which I take to mean its pew – bound “other ranks” rather than its BD or DD – holding “officer class”, is a group to which I once belonged .

    There was a bifurcation between the serious, properly God – fearing Presbyterians and the rest of the Sunday , social convention – observing congregation.

    We got through life using our natural theology (or ethics if you prefer) and ignoring Biblical strictures when they became inconvenient.

  3. Oh yes , I remember all those Edinburgh Academy type – Stalin supporters and Hitlerites from post Kirk meetings.

    Sunday lunch at the New Club was a feast of totalitarianism.

    1. You haven’t quite grasped the point. ‘Natural theology’ or ethics is what is natural to different people – its not a euphemism for just your ethics!

  4. You have conveyed it perfectly, Rev. “To fix things” is man’s way when repentance and restitution is God’s way when we have let our Lord down. What saddens me is that there are so many ways in which we fail and how it is so much easier to point to the sins of others , than to acknowledge “There but for the grace of God , go I.

    Thankfully , the Psalmist found his salvation in God alone , just as all His children do , when like the prodigal we return to the Father’s care no more worthy to be a son/ daughter. Not only does he run to greet us , he has been out looking in anticipation to welcome and embrace the one who so dishonoured him. Grace upon grace , mercy upon mercy , restoration and establishment to a place of honour . Little wonder we can but marvel .

  5. I would concur with the view that so much of church is of (origin) the flesh and natural, not of (origin) the Holy Spirit.
    It’s not a new dilemma. It arguably goes back to Abraham, Issac and Ishmael. The flesh (will of man) and the promise (of God)

    The Ravi situation is very interesting. “Didn’t we do xxxx in your name?” has the same response from the world, the church and Christ. It’s not good enough. It doesn’t mask evil. The apparent success of a ministry falls short every time if the personal life does not match. It may be possible to get away with it in politics and business to a degree, but not in His name.

    Jesus response is sobering, yet often overlooked. He did not say, “depart from me, you never knew me.”
    He is specific in saying, “I never knew you!”
    This is not a knowledge about or understanding. This is an intimate personal knowing. As a husband and wife know each other. Do we give God His due in ascribing this virtue to Him? That it’s not about our ability to know Him, but His ability to know us!
    If he desires to therefore know us, will we be known to Him? I.e. do we actually share our life with Him? Does he know us? Any short fall is not on His part but ours.

    Clearly Jesus reply reveals it is possible to do many things in His name, but He still does not know us intimately, if we don’t share our life with Him.

    Today much ado is made about what we do in Jesus name. Yet he warned 2000 years ago this would happen, and it wouldn’t be enough. Why do we still measure by a means he has already said is inadequate?

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