Thursday, July 13, 2006

Absolutely Dependable Human Beings

Mark Heath shares from a TOAM seminar by Philip Greenslade:
The story of Josiah... there was much economic and even religious activity, but the word of God had been lost. Josiah learned that God must have the first word in everything.... The story of Josiah's son Jehoiakim [he] tried to destroy the word, but discovered that God always has the last word.... The Jehoiakim church is a church that cuts bits out of the word of God to tame it, and make it culturally acceptable. But is the Josiah church honouring the word? Do we simply assume that people know the "apostle's teaching" or are we giving space to expository teaching. This is central and vital - so we need to do it, and do it well.

The third story is of Jesus being handed the scroll in Luke 4. He pointed out that Jesus himself chose to expound scripture, rather than telling his feelings, vision or his life story. This seemed to me to be a word of mild rebuke to charismatic churches whos sermons are less and less likely to be expository and instead focus on explaining plans and vision for the future, or testimony from recent missions etc.... we too need to "take up the scroll" and be confronted with the "stories of God". God's first and final word is Jesus, and opening the scrolls speeds the momentum of God's story and provokes a reaction. The Bible is like dynamite... let God's word consume you and affect your emotions.

Greenslade closed urging newfrontiers to "stay faithful to the written word of God as you follow the Spirit wherever he leads". It is interesting that Philip was invited to speak on this topic to newfrontiers as the emotion of "mourning" over sin and acknowledging of the depravity of the human heart is not a major emphasis of our group of churches. The worship is increasingly focussing on being extravagantly joyful, and only quietens down to be intimate. Songs of lament, crying for mercy are not to be found in our repertoire. Similarly, sermons strike a consistently truimphant tone, and the Puritan emphasis on the soul's war against sin is rejected in favour of emphasising the power of the Spirit.

As I have already mentioned, while not overtly critisising newfrontiers, Greenslade seems to be concerned that though a church may believe that it is honouring the Scriptures, in fact they are being neglected, as less and less space is given to "opening the scrolls". Ian Stackhouse sounds a similar warning in his book "The Gospel Driven Church". I tend to agree with them on this point - I am concerned at a growing biblical illiteracy as young people grow up hearing many motivational talks but few biblical expositions. Any reminder of the importance of letting God speak to us through the Scriptures is in my view a timely one.
See similar reflections in a different context from David Jackman. Jackman's challenge not so much to spark more expository preaching, since he can safely assume his audience love exposition. Jackman insisted upon expository exultation: Preach the word.

More exposition of the word! More expository exultation! Encouragingly, many already have the best of both worlds. Greenslade speaks to Newfrontiers, Jackman to Proctrust... my experience of both is limited but appears in God's grace to have been amongst the best examples - people who take Scripture seriously and preach it with due passion, gravity and concern for God's glory. But none of us will naturally stay there. We don't just drift towards exulting over God's word. We must keep reforming, not for the sake of reformation - but for the sake of drawing closer to God's best for us.

We all like to think of ourselves as absolutely dependable... but we are not. We must listen intently and humbly to scripture. We must not wholly accept what others say, but rather exercise discernment, testing against scripture. And that necessitates that we do wholly accept what Scripture says. Always coming back to scripture, always praying that God would incline our hearts to him. Praying that he would miraculously open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hearts to believe his word. And as we reform, there are many fallible friends who can help us along the way.
"I want to stand among the people of God, as a fellow struggler, a prodigal in the Father’s gracious party, and hear that my sins are forgiven." - iMonk