Saturday, July 11, 2009

In Name Only

I have come to the conclusion that being seated next to someone on a fully booked transatlantic flight, is the closest you can come to holding someone hostage without being charged with a crime, or criminally prosecuted. I was on my way to Romania, via Munich Germany, and for the first time in a long time I was excited. Usually, I get seated between the two mothers with the crying infants, and listen to screaming in stereo for the better part of eight hours, but to my surprise an older gentleman sat in the seat next to mine and nodded his head at me smiling.
Seeing as I had dodged the crying baby bullet, I pulled out my copy of William Gurnall’s ‘The Christian In Complete Armor’, and found the bookmark I had put there, a ticket stub from another flight, at page 560. Although the book can be found in three different volumes, the copy I have is the complete and unabridged version, which comes out to a little over twelve hundred pages.
I saw the gentleman seated next to me arch his eyebrows when he saw me pull the book out of my bag, but since he didn’t say anything I just started reading.
This was my third reading of the book, and if there is one thing you should know about me concerning my reading library, is that I abuse my books. On almost every page of a good book I own you will find highlighted passages, thoughts scrawled on the outer edges, and folded pages that I want to reread at a further date. About an hour into the flight, I felt the gentleman was looking at me, and as I raised my head, my suspicion was confirmed. He smiled and said, “Did you buy the book used? It looks like the previous owner wasn’t very kind to it.”
“I bought it new” I answered, “it’s just something I do when I read, I highlight and scrawl. I’ve done it for as far back as I could remember.”
“Is it a good book? What is it about?”
I informed him it was a Christian book, penned by a man who lived in the sixteen hundreds, and that yes, it was worth a read, or even two or three.
“So what do you do if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m a preacher”, I answered.
“Are you going to Germany to preach? Do you speak German?”
I explained that I was headed to Romania, and that my family lived there, and the orphanage our family built was also located in Romania.
We talked for awhile longer about our work, and about what I did, and then I asked him if he believed in God, and whether or not he was a Christian.
He smiled and said something that he meant as a joke, but nevertheless got me thinking. He said, “Well, I’m a Baptist but only when it suits me.”
Tragic and unfortunate as it might be many people today share this man’s beliefs when it comes to God and their faith in God. They are believers, or at least purport to be, only when it suits them. Throughout the rest of my flight, and for some time after arriving home I kept returning to the questions, ‘what has caused this spike in nominal Christianity, and why are there so many Christians in name only?’
I have concluded that there are four major reasons why the number of nominal Christians has multiplied exponentially within the span of a generation.
The first of these four reasons has been the enemy of true faith in Christ since the beginning of the early church. Although throughout the centuries it has gone by different names, such as Gnosticism, Agnosticism, Universalism, Humanism, Ecumenicalism, and Mysticism, today it is most widely known as liberal theology. The simple definition of liberal theology is the removal of Scripture as final authority in matters pertaining to Christianity, and the practice of selective application of Scripture. What I mean by selective application is that we pick and choose only those verses within God’s holy Word that suit us, those verses that do not challenge us, that do not compel us to righteousness, and that require nothing of us.
Of the sixty six books, 1189 chapters, and 31,103 verses of the Bible, we appropriate a handful of them, some not even in their entirety, which give us license to do as we wish when we wish if only in our own mind, and discard the rest of God’s Word as either irrelevant for our times, or absent of the contextualization required of us to fully receive them. These are just veiled excuses for disobedience, and justification for a hard and unrepentant heart.
Liberal theology is on an upswing, especially in America, because it offers all the benefits of being a Christian, without those pesky requirements such as repentance and sanctification. Men deceive themselves into believing they can have the best of both worlds, and that they can serve two masters, not realizing that Jesus said no man can serve two masters because well, they’ve conveniently discarded that part of the Bible along with all the other verses.
Blinded by their own perceived intelligence, such people live their lives fully assured that they’ve found a way to bypass repentance, to bypass holiness unto God, to bypass righteousness, and jump the fence into heaven.
To the theologically liberal God’s dictates and mandates are no longer things to be obeyed without question, but merely suggestions to be debated, and subjectively analyzed.
“I know that’s what the Bible says, but that’s not the way I see it. I know that’s what the Bible says but in my heart I don’t feel that’s right.”
No offense intended, but who are you, or who am I for that matter, to contradict the Creator of the universe? Justified disobedience, is still disobedience, and the reality is that man can only justify disobedience in his own mind, not before an omniscient God. Will anyone be able to stand before God’s judgment seat, and say “I know that’s what You commanded, but I knew better.”
The arrogance of some men is baffling to behold. I cannot fathom the level of pride it would take to place our own thoughts, ideas, and feelings above the very God we are purporting to serve. The Word of God is not subjective, it is absolute! The flesh however, rebels against the idea of obedience and servitude.
The second reason nominal Christianity has become so pervasive is loss of purpose. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve lost sight of that which is most important, being distracted by worthless and temporal things. The primary purpose of the church was to be a witness, to evangelize, to go into the entire world and preach the gospel of Christ to every nation. We seem to have forgotten that every generation needs to be evangelized, every generation needs to be instructed in the ways of Christ, and every generation needs to have the love of God birthed in their hearts.
We see the dangers of not passing on the love of God to our children in the lineage of Abraham, specifically the difference between his relationship with God, Isaac’s relationship with God, and finally Jacob’s relationship with God.
There is a very telling progression, or rather descent into disobedience with every passing generation, because the Word of truth and life is not passed on, nor are the fruit of the Spirit many are saying they have visible to their offspring.
If we study the Word diligently we see that there is a lessening of both faith and devotion in Isaac than that which was in his father Abraham. We all know the exploits and the history of Abraham, the patriarch, the friend of God, but from Abraham being God’s friend, we turn our focus on Isaac who viewed God as one merely to be feared. From Isaac, we turn to Jacob, who possessed even less faith than Isaac, who referred to God only in the context of being the God of Abraham.
Genesis 31:42, “Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
This verse is in the context of Jacob’s labors on behalf of Laban his father in law, and the unjust manner in which he was treated, but I wanted us to see the first part of this verse, and perceive how Jacob viewed God. He did not say, ‘unless my God’ but rather, ‘the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac’. Essentially, at that point in his existence, Jacob was removed from a personal and intimate relationship with God.
If we fail to evangelize the next generation, if we fail to put in the time and raise our children up in the ways of the Lord, the pattern will simply continue to repeat itself at infinitum. The pattern has existed since the time of Abraham, and its course as well as its causality is as evident as it is tragic. The pattern always follows these three steps: The first generation experiences a spiritual awakening, the second generation maintains its integrity because of its parents’ faith, and the third generation falls by the wayside altogether.
This is the pattern that became evident in the lineage of Abraham as well, wherein the patriarch was close to God, and had a relationship with Him, his son Isaac was blessed in large part due to his father, and Jacob referred to God merely as one who his father served.
Genesis 26:24, “And the Lord appeared to him that same night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.”
We need to consider two big ideas in this verse. First, when the Lord appeared to Isaac, He introduced Himself as the God of his father. He did not appear to Isaac and say, “I am the Lord your God” as He often did with Israel, but the God of your father. Isaac had no intimacy or relationship with God, and because love for God did not reside in his heart, the only emotion he showed toward the God of his father was fear. Second, it was due to the bond God had with Abraham that he promised Isaac he would bless him. It was for Abraham’s sake that God would bless Isaac, and for no other reason.
We see the perfect portrait of the dangers of not continually and fervently planting the seeds of God’s Word in our children’s lives and hearts. We have the tendency to forget that every generation needs to be pointed to Christ that the pattern might be broken, and that the next generation will be as faithful and obedient to God as the present generation.
The third reason I believe there are so many Christians in name only has more to do with the church as a whole, than the individual. It is due to a combination of hierarchal structure, as well as inflexible and irrelevant formalities and ceremonies.
The primary church understood that in order for the body to function properly, every body part had to function. The nominal church has forgotten that if one body part is not functioning, then it inevitably atrophies. A good example of this is my little brother Daniel. Some time ago he was in a major car wreck, and due to some severe damage he suffered to his left leg he had to have multiple surgeries. Because of the surgeries, he was bedridden and unable to walk for a few months. Inevitably, his leg muscles weakened, they began the process of atrophy, and so before he could walk again, he had to undergo physical therapy to strengthen his legs again. It is the same within a body of believers, where the prevalent mentality is ‘it’s the pastor’s job, he gets paid to labor; he gets paid to be close to God.’ As such the rest of the body grows indifferent, ever weaker, ever colder, and begins to wither becoming powerless and largely irrelevant. In order for the whole to be strong, the individual members must be strong, and as such must grow spiritually as individuals. A church body must function as a single organism, each performing its duties and tasks that the entire body might grow in God.
There is also the danger of inflexible and irrelevant formality. What I mean by this, is that we have so programmed our services, down to the last thirty seconds, that we no longer leave room for the move of God, we no longer leave room for an extended prayer service or for true worship of the heart. Many churches, and I’ve sat in such services, are like a well scripted three act play, beginning with the praise and worship, followed by the taking of the offering, concluded by the fifteen minute sermon and the requisite dismissal. I’m not saying there should be no structure, but not one so rigid that it prohibits interruption or deviation from the set parameters.
The requisite honesty and objective analysis of the modern day church will cause us to conclude some very harsh truths. In most cases, throughout the world in fact, the average churchgoer is older. I have been in churches where people well over sixty were considered the youth of the congregation. This is alarming given the fact that in large part young people want nothing to do with God. The reason for this rebellion is because the youth of today need examples of what it is to be a godly person, and nominal Christians just don’t do it for them. Some who still come to church once in awhile dragging their feet, are merely following in the footsteps of their parents, themselves becoming nominal and indifferent seat warmers, with no passion for God or the things of God.
It would be easy for me to wax poetic at this juncture, to sugar coat the truth and say that there is still hope for the church of tomorrow, but the simple truth is that unless the older generation returns to prayer and fasting, to knowing and living the Word of God, to being examples worthy of emulating, to showing the love of Christ, and having the answers to the questions the younger generation so often poses, there will be no church of tomorrow.
The ‘so what if I choose to be a nominal Christian it doesn’t affect anyone but me’ mentality is a fallacy, and an outright deception. There is always a chain reaction that goes far beyond what human eyes can see, that spans generations and sows bitter seeds that lead to destruction.
Yes, there is a heavy burden on the shoulders of every individual believer, for the life or death of the church of the future, if the Lord so chooses to terry, will largely be decided by our actions, and reactions to the Word and will of God.

With love in Christ,

Michael Boldea Jr.


Anonymous said...

This is one of your BEST posts ever.

Reading this makes me think SO MUCH of "Christians" I know who

a. live lives of compromise

b. have extreme hostility toward me for living differently from the world

c. accuse me of bigotry when I attempt to share with them the eternal consequences of disobeying Scripture

Bravo Michael Boldea !!!

Rev. 12.10-11
New Mexico, USA

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you’re talking about. As a hospital chaplain for over 12 years (after hours on call and fill in for the day chaplain), I have frequently heard the same story when entering a patient’s room. “I use to be a (denomination), but I haven’t gone to church in years. You only have to introduce yourself and it automatically comes spilling out of their mouths without you saying another word or asking them anything.

Our children aren't serving the Lord at this time, but they allow us to take their children to church. I was like them, but thanks to a praying mother when in my mid 30's, God knew exactly where to find me and how to get my attention when He was ready. I just pray that our children aren't as stubborn as I was. It's true what the Bible says about "train up a child." We're still praying and believing for their salvation.