For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Humanism In The House

“With brains in my head and feet in my shoes, I will walk the path I choose.” So says the sign in front of a local church. I wasn’t’ sure of the origin of this little ditty. I actually had pretty good English Lit. classes in high school and college, and was about to think I was asleep, drooling on my desk the day we read this great literary quote. Then google found it. It’s apparently from Seussical the Musical, where JoJo says: “I've got brains in my head And feet in my shoes,” and the others say, “So steer yourself any direction you choose!” (I apologize if the source is somewhere more profound and I just missed it).

Now, Dr. Seuss has been used before to some positive theological effect (see my friend Rodney’s use of Horton Hears a Who). But here’s the point: why is this sentiment on a church sign? And particularly, during the Christmas season when we are supposed to be celebrating Christ’s coming among us, why are we elevating man’s own effort? It seems this is just one further example of how the humanistic spirit has invaded the church.

I’m not trying to pick on this church in particular. I’m not trying to say that this pastor and his entire congregation are pagan humanists. But I do think it shows how far the man-exalting philosophy has come that we can put that on our church sign during Christmas, and no one seems to notice or mind.

With my brains and my effort I will do what I want. How different is that than the words of God’s Book? How about Proverbs 20:24, “A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” Or Romans 9:16, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Or our Lord’s own words in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing” (all ESV).

Scripture makes it very plain that in with our own brains and effort and will we will end up apart from God, disobedient and rebellious. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about to begin with? That man in his depravity required such a great and merciful gift of grace that could only come through the cross, and so the Word became flesh and dwelt among us to give us grace upon grace? That’s why we sing “Joy to the world” after all, because God came to save us. But according to this church sign, we apparently didn’t need the help after all.

This whole thing just seems to be one more illustration how the “spirit of the age” has infected the church. We could talk about the whole church growth movement which points to entertainment and man made methodologies to bring folks in, as opposed to the simple preaching of the Word. Or we could mention the manipulative invitation system we’ve devised in the last century and a half to get folks emotional and “get ‘em in” the kingdom, as opposed to how things worked the first 1900 years of the church: God drew men to Himself. We could even mention the decline in the basic doctrine of sin; these days folks aren’t dead in their trespasses and sins, they are merely a little sick and misguided and can make their way back to the right path with the right effort and encouragement.

I’m sure all those things are lengthy discussions on their own, and maybe I shouldn’t just open a can of worms like that. It’s just that as the years go by, mankind seems more and more enamored with itself and the church, in it’s desire to fit in I guess, wants to buy in to the whole humanistic mindset.

Puritan John Flavel said that: “Every man, take where you will, and every man in his best estate, or standing in his freshest glory, is not only vanity, but altogether vanity.” I understand that; and I know the world is like that. But I thought the church was different; I thought we were to have the mind of Christ.

We need a healthy dose of the understanding which led another Puritan, William Secker, to say, “’Lord, what is man?’ Take him in his four elements, of earth, air, fire, and water. In the earth, he is as fleeting dust; in the air, he is as disappearing vapour; in the water, he is as breaking bubble; and in the fire, he is as consuming smoke.”

Once we have a clearer understanding of our nature and standing, maybe we won’t be quite as prideful about our brains and feet and the path of our choice. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll depend on Christ; which is why He came after all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heart of Christmas

I knew it was time to post something new in this space, though I've not been idle. We have some great pics and things over at the family site. Our oldest daughter told me I should write something on Christmas. Seems a little obvious, doesn't it? But what to say?

In the process of trying to come up with something profound (and not hurt myself in the process) I read a post by my friend Scott Lee. He did such a good job of offering a brief, to the point summary of the topic at hand that I realized the most profound thing I can say is this: Read Pastor Scott's Blog on Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

After a brief phone interview, this very blog space led off a front page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last Friday. You can read Religion Reporter Tim Townsend's article here, as he looks at Mike Huckabee's growing support for the Republican Presidential nomination; especially among conservative Christians. Thanks for the interview, Mr. Townsend, and thanks for a great article in which I wasn't even misquoted!

Let's keep up the support for Mike Huckabee!

(For the original post quoted by Townsend, click here)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Of Pigskins and Piety

“A Disney song would sound good if you have a good sound system…Maybe we can get a band,” said one man. “We just want to make it a fun, good-time atmosphere,” said another. Both agreed that a new sound system and updated music would go a long way in solving their problems. When people are excited, everything is better, they say.

Are these church members talking about how to reach more people? Better sound, upbeat music, getting people excited as the answer to a lagging performance. Sounds like some church meetings I’ve been in.

But no, these quotes came from Stephen Jackson and La’Roi Glover of the St. Louis Rams. According to them, the Rams' lackluster performance this year (they started 0-8 and are now only 3-9) can be traced in part to the “atmosphere” in the Edward Jones Dome where they play their home games.

In an AP article carried in the Springfield News-Leader on Sunday, Jackson was quoted as saying, “If our fans are not behind us and the music’s not pumping and the players are not excited, you’ve definitely got a lot of reasons why we’re not winning.” So…it’s the fan’s fault and the music’s fault.

My first reaction to that was: You’ve got to be kidding! You guys are paid millions of dollars each year to do what you love: play the game of football. You are on the biggest sports stage in America. And you can’t get excited because of the music. That’s the reason you’re 3-9?!

My second reaction was this: This is exactly the same attitude we see in the church. People in our churches say they know the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. They say they come to church to worship the one they love, He who sits enthroned on the grandest stage in the galaxy. But they can’t get excited because of the music. That’s the reason we don’t have bigger crowds?!

Eerie parallels here. And the reasoning is just as lame. I know there is such a thing as home field advantage in the NFL. I’ve been to games at both the Dome and at Arrowhead in KC. I know there is some electricity in a good crowd. But if the players claim they can’t win without better music and more hyped up crowds, then they don’t deserve the multi-million dollar contracts they fight for. Good fundamental football wins games, not sound systems.

And the same is true in the church. I’ve been to some emotionally exciting worship services; and I enjoy it. But if we claim we can’t worship without better, hipper music and hyped up crowds, then we don’t truly understand the nature of the grace we’ve been given and the awesome nature of the God we worship. Good fundamental theology makes for good worship, not sound systems.

The interesting thing is that many people will hear comments like those of Jackson and Glover and see through those as trivial. But those same people fail to see the trivial nature of the same arguments in the church. We are such an entertainment oriented society that we feel church has to match MTV and HBO and all those other letters in the “fun, good-time atmosphere” category.

Charles Spurgeon once said to “Beware of mistaking excitement for the Holy Ghost, or your own resolutions for the deep workings of the Spirit of God in the soul.” Elsewhere he said: “You who live upon excitement, will be but deceitful brooks; you whose religion depends upon the elocution of the preacher, you whose piety depends on sacraments, you whose godliness rests in your own doings, you may very well become like the dry and stony beds of occasional torrents; but those who depend upon the work of Christ which he has finished, and upon the in-welling power of the Holy Ghost, who shall abide with them for ever, shall renew their strength like the eagle’s; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

As a long-time Rams fan, I’m hoping for a real turnaround this season. A lasting one that doesn’t come about by hyped up music in the Dome, but a healthy team playing fundamental football. And as a longer-time “fan” of Christ and His church, I’m hoping for a similar lasting turnaround; one based not on hype and hysteria of an entertaining service, but on healthy believers coming before a Holy God in worship based on sound theology and a simple grasp of the nature of grace.