If the Reformation of 1517 happened today, what would need reforming? In this blog I discuss five areas the church needs radical reformation on in the 21st century. This is a "first stab" and so I plan to return to these in later blogs....
(1) The Bible alone
This, the foremost call of the Reformers, remains the single greatest need of the hour. On every issue, but especially the pressing issues of our day, we need to remain faithful to Scripture. A recent and tragic event brought this home to me.
The church I grew up in, last week agreed to "go gay" (of course they didn't say that openly, but that's what they've done). What do I mean? They have decided to regard it as a secondary issue as to whether or not a "Christian" can be a practising gay. Such a view reveals an almost complete ignorance of the Bible. For the Bible is not heterosexual, it is radically heterosexual: the Bible opens with a heterosexual marriage (Adam and Eve) and ends with a "heterosexual marriage" (Christ and the Church) and is heterosexual all the way through, making the very Gospel heterosexual in type. You cannot read scarcely a page of the Bible without "husband" or "wife" jumping out at you. The only time homosexual behaviour is mentioned is to condemn it outright as sinful and needing repenting of. Only by utterly abandoning the Bible wholesale can a church "go gay."Of course a "gay church" has become a liberal church - it has joined the long ranks of churches which have departed from the faith once delivered to the saints.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, so the church is not anti-gay, for repentant homosexuals - just as repentant adulterers and repentant thiefs, can find peace with God and become children of God.
(2) The end of the academy
The western church in particular is addicted to the academy. What do I mean? (i) pastors aspire to be "academics" more than despised pastors; and famous ones lead the way pursuing foolish PhD's (for the uninitiated, PHD stands for 'Pretty Ignorant Dunce' - silent h)* so that people will admire them even more. Instead of delighting in insults and weaknesses and suffering the academy encourages ridiculous proud letters after one's name - letters that will be unknown in the world to come - and are irrelevant in the present world and even more irrelevant in the church. (The only useful lettered men in Scripture are the ones like Moses who gave up the worldy treasures of Egypt and Paul who had to renounce all that jazz as "dung" before he or his past training could be of any use to Christ). (ii) Christian books are riddled with little reference numbers all over them, because that's what academics do - having to prove every other sentence has an external proofing reference. But all of this makes the book incomprehensible and boring to most people (but then again, the authors perhaps aren't writing to impress ordinary saints, they are writing to impress editors and famous Christians whose titles and letters will sprinkle the blurb on the back of the book). (iii) Courses - churches do courses for this and courses for that..... The infection of the academy is widespread and deadly to the spiritual life of the church for a host of reasons. A true reformation would remove this, the undone business of the first reformation, because the first reformation was undertaken by scholars.
We would be far wiser to follow the Anabaptists who were also zealous to reform the church but without the academic clap trap of the scholastic reformers; but alas they did not live long enough to produce mature writings because they were hounded - and killed in their thousands - by the state or the reformers.
(3) The end of "expository preaching alone"
Since the Reformers were all academics they assumed that just as a work by Homer should be studied sequentially, line by line, so should the Bible. Zwingli and Calvin all did this kind of preaching - because they were academics first and pastors second. This legacy from the Reformation ties up pastors in knots. The system is justified on the basis that it is the only way to declare the whole counsel of God without bias. How ludicrous! Expository preaching is full of biases - as is any system! The preacher has to chose the book first of all, and then always preaches it through his personal theological spectacles: I once heard a preacher making his way through Colossians and when it came to anything about the Spirit of God, the preacher completely ignored those verses as if they were not even in the text!
No, the key to preaching is to prayerfully preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), not slavishly following any one method of preaching. There is absolutely no evidence that the apostles ever adopted an "expository preaching" style and no good reasons for us to do it. As long as a preacher traverses the whole of Scriptures, old and new, narrative and poetry, prophecy and letter, he preaches the whole counsel of God. It is indeed quite possible for expository preaching to do the very opposite of declaring the whole counsel of God: if a preacher decided to preach only Job for a year, for example, the church would be starved of much needed preaching on many subjects vital to daily Christian living for one whole year! Expository preaching has a place, for sure, but not it is by no means the only way, or even the best way to preach God's Word.
(4) The need for sacrifice
If ever there was a lack in the western world it is for sacrificial Christian living. We Christians make very few personal or family or pleasure sacrifices for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. We live, by and large, easy western lives, with a tiny little sprinkling of Christian coating on the surface. Make sacrifices to how much time I spend with my kids to serve someone else? You must be joking! Make sacrifices to my hobbies? Pull the other one! Give financially until it hurts? A comfortable culture has spawned comfortable Christians. There are many wonderful exceptions of course....
(5) The need for discipleship
We need to return to the only way to establish young believers in their faith, and that is by following the ways of Jesus. Jesus spent long hours with young believers and taught them verbally and by life. This is our task. Not to fill them with knowledge in lecture-style settings, but to teach them how to follow Christ by life and lip, engaging them in the whole of our lives.
More to follow......
*I do mean this literally, PhD stands for Pretty Ignorant (silent h) Dunce - a man with a PhD understands one tiny leaf on the enormous tree of knowledge; and by concentrating on that one largely irrelevant leaf to the exclusion of all other leaves, has "wasted" 3-4 years of a life of other general knowledge which would have enriched him and rounded him. But, Oh, now he is respected a tad more in this present foolish passing world, so I guess it was worth the focused ignorance.
In the secular world, in the university world, PhDs are valuable, don't misunderstand me. Doctoral studies on a small leaf of the tree of knowledge can advance our understanding of God's amazing world. But someone has to say that in the church of Jesus Christ, the clamour for PhDs and the honour given to those who have them is wrong and dangerous, for a thousand reasons, not least because books and talks from this type go over the heads of most of the population of lost men and women. The Gospel is simple but the academy makes it complex: if you don't believe that read anything by Tom Wright. Convoluted or what.
Someone said to me "won't some people be offended by being referred to as a Pretty Ignorant Dunce"? to which I reply: (i) less than 1% of the population are affected, (ii) the offence falls on the author first (see Roy's Thesis) , (iii) someone needs to pop the phd bubble - phds mean absolutely nothing, except as part of the proud apparatus of the world system, they say nothing whatsoever about the person's IQ, knowledge, or character, (iv) phds mean even less in the church where our identity is in Christ and is totally disconnected to any educational attainments, and where character is what counts, not 'noledge, (v) by all this phd claptrap in the church we are offending our brothers and sisters who don't have two CSE's to rub together, introducing worldliness into Zion and we are potentially excluding from our ranks the majority of our population.