Friday, September 30, 2011
We read the preface aloud, and something caught my attention that I hadn't noticed before. It is from Packer's 1973 preface. He described a trend that has led to an ignorance of God. "Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God."Being a bit older than Menikoff, I read the book back when it was nearly new and like Menikoff, I was quite influenced by it. But as I re-approach it here, I have a couple of thoughts that come with age.
What does this look like? Packer wrote that it looks like people getting so caught up in religious practices that they "have allowed God to become remote." Packer's observation reminds me of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1, "Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." So, the religious practices that Packer is talking about are akin to the "acts of righteousness" performed by the Pharisees. Ouch.
But what does this have to do with people leaving churches? Here is Packer's answer: "Clear sighted persons, seeing this, are tempted to withdraw from churches in something like disgust to pursue a quest for God on their own." In other words, when someone comes to our church, they look around and wonder, "Do these folks really mean it? Are they going through the motions or is God's Spirit really at work in their midst?" Religious practices alone is like watered-down glue--worthless!
The first thought is that there is so little "religious practice" left in where most people go to church, as compared to when Packer wrote the book, that the words have much less meaning than they used to. "Good" might be the response of many based on this - but that leads me to me second point.
Religious practice is what preserve faith when our spirits are dry. Religious practice, vacant habit, if you will, keeps me in the realm of faith when I find I have no faith. Empty ritual means that I have a home when faith returns and that I have not wandered too far from the fold in the interim.
When I survey our current near practiceless landscape, I see a place nearly as devoid of genuine faith as I did when Packer wrote those words. And worse, without that practice, I see that when people experience spiritual drought they have often wandered so far that they never return.