Monday, July 25, 2005


What A Great Insight

Michael Spencer, wrote a very interesting exegete of I Corithians 14 over the weekend. As is typical with the IMonk, he is quite direct and to his point.

Like Michael, I have spent a lot of time in that particular chapter and the ones surrounding it -- mostly in response to some very negative experiences I had with the phenomena of glossalia in my youth.

In the essay, Michael makes a parallel that has long itched at the back of my brain. That parallel is between the ecstatic, public glossalia utterances of the Corinthian church and the ecstatic nature of the music heavy, entertainment oriented, worship service practised by increasingly more churches today.

I think the heart of the parallel lies in this quote from IMonk's essay
Paul is, in fact, concerned that Christian worship will appear insane if ecstatic utterance, or chaotic individualism in general, were to prevail. This is an amazing statement. It says that the Corinthians were producing something that was unintelligible either as cultural religion or as Christian experience. It simply appeared insane.
The gospel will always appear as "foolish" to the world at large, but I think Michael is talking about something very different here. We live in a society, with its empahsis on religious freedom, that honors in some fashion the "genuine" faith of Muslim fanatics that kill innocents, but readily ridicules what is passing for Christian religiouslity these days. It's easy to say that such perception is rooted in the falleness of the world, but I also think it says a lot about the state of Christianity these days.

Think about the insanity defense in criminal cases -- it relies on one simple distinction -- did the accused understand the offense and the potential consequences thereof. Certainly in the case of the 9-11 perpetrators, they understood fully what they were doing and why -- it was a "sane," if abhorently evil, act. Signs are now that the London actors may have been duped, which is a sign of increasing weakness for the fanatics, but that is a side issue. Remember the views of Bill Maher.

Conversely, much of what is passing for Christian practice today, appears random and without understanding, or at a minimum appears to be motivated no differently than secular actions. If a religion claims the world is wrong, but acts just like it, does that not reveal a certain lack of understanding of ones actions? -- A certain insanity? In some ways, I think this is the point that Pyromaniac is making in his series on the "collapse" of evangelicalism.

So, we have the parallel of ecstacy. How do we fix it? The answer lies in the test IMonk examines:
1 Corinthians 14:3-4 - On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
We need to emphasize the self-denial that is at the heart of true Christian faith. It is not about us. Here is where I begin to part company with Michael a little in this essay. He talks about the need for order and authority, and seems to vest that in the congregation and denomination. I would skip that and vest such order and authority directly in God.

While it is true that if everybody starts claiming direct heavenly authority, chaos might result, but I don't think so. I think that if we emphasize the essential gospel message of self-denial - confession, repentance, "holding others as more important than ourselves," seeking God's will - then the worldly authorities operating in God's name will fall into proper perspective, as instruments to achieve God's ends, not a repository of authority as they are generally viewed. The insistence on such authority created as many abuses as the current trends, and those abuses are largely responsible for the over-reaction and problems we see today.

Al Mohler posted part of AW Tozier's "Preachers Prayer" yesterday -- it just seems appropos to this discussion.

The heart of the gospel is that God makes us better, but He only does so when we realise how bad we really are. Proclaiming the good news must include the conviction of sinfulness. Herein lies the answer to the problems described.


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