Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seeking the Experience?

I figured out I was a charismatic over twenty years ago. And while I haven't "done it all" I have done a lot of it. I've been in places where we worshipped our heads off, danced in the aisles, seen healings (one time my wife received some healing she hadn't even sought as she walked by when someone else was being prayed for--never did know whether he got healed or not); I've spoken in tongues, received words from prophets, delivered a few myself, been part of a "laughing revival", been drunk on the Holy Spirit (never have been drunk on alcohol in my life, but that night I was drunk); never cast out any evil spirits, but I've known people who have; and finally figured out that I had walked in a form of the gift of discerning spirits for most of my adult life, even before I knew I was a charismatic.

But the best advice I ever heard on this came from one of the leaders of the Toronto Blessing. I can't even remember who it was, John Arnott or one of his associates. Right around the time they were asked to leave the Vineyard Association, he spoke at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. And one of the things he said was, "Don't seek the experience--seek Jesus."

And he was right. I've seen a lot of people "seeking the experience"--lining up to be prayed over by a prophet (some almost treat it as if it were fortune-telling), running to the next big meeting, going to see the big-name worship leader or faith healer, running off to Kansas City or Brownville or wherever the next big happening is. And the hype goes on and the egos of the "leaders" get bigger and bigger.

But in recent years I've noticed something else going on. The first hint I picked up was when Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer (whom I've cited at times in this blog) left the heritage he'd grown up in to join the one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. And he's not alone. A number of evangelicals have gone either Orthodox (including a couple of bloggers I read) or Roman Catholic (Sen. Sam Brownback used to be a Baptist, but is now RC). And some of the newer churches--some I've known of, and one I attended for a couple of years--have been getting into things like candles, incense, liturgies, Lectio Divina, Divine Hours--I've even heard someone teach that "spiritual disciplines" are how you "abide in Christ" (from John 15:4--the problem is, IMO, if you read the whole chapter, Jesus told how to abide in Him, and he said something else--more on this in another post sometime).

It's almost seemed for some years now that serious Christians are going in two different directions--some becoming more formal--liturgies, etc.--and others are becoming less formal--house churches, "free-range Christians" ( a term I picked up from Wayne Jacobsen). And I've realized for a long time that my own inclination is to less formality (maybe it's the redneck in me).

But lately something else about this situation has dawned on me. All the formal stuff--liturgies, incense, candles, Divine Hours--is another way of "seeking the experience." The "experiences" they seek are not the same "experiences" the charismatics went for, but the principle is the same. And the problem is, the "experiences" are not Jesus. And while for some the experiences may lead to Jesus Himself, all too many will stop short, just as all too many charismatics kept seeking experiences and never quite got all the way to Him.

So--Don't seek the experience, seek Jesus. If He knows the experience will be good for you, or is something you yourself need, He'll see that you get it. (That was my own attitude about tongues years ago.) But keep your focus on Him, not the experiences along the way. The best they can do is point you to Him, but if you focus on them, you can miss Him. And that road leads to emptiness and the need for more and more "experiences" to try to fill up the void that only He can fill.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Values, anyone?

I know I haven't posted anything in a long time--it's been a busy year for me. I've wanted to get back to it, but just haven't managed it. For a while after we moved I didn't even have Internet access at home. But through it all I did keep reading.

One of the things I read this year--actually re-read-- was one of Francis Schaeffer's later books, "How Should We Then Live." Some of the things in that book struck me this time, especially in light of the election, the economic events of this year, and some other happenings. He believed that most people in this country had drifted away from the Judeo-Christian values of the past and were left with two "impoverished" values--personal peace and affluence, which he described this way:

"Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city--to live one's life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity--a life made up of things, things, and more things--a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance."

Schaeffer wrote this in the mid-1970s, and I think the trend he saw got worse in the years that followed. But on September 11, 2001 Americans' personal peace took a hard hit, and at first many stepped up and reponded to the need to act against the new enemies. But as the years passed and the struggle continued it has become clear that many of our people no longer have the stomach for long drawn-out action. "Personal peace" does not provide men and women with the stamina for difficulties that cannot be resolved in short order. "Personal peace" demands that everything be settled in an hour or so, like on television, so we can go back to our own little affairs.

And now "affluence" is taking hits. The "dot-com" bust at the turn of the new century was the first warning, but the "housing bust" of the last couple of years and credit crisis of the last few months have shattered our comfortable complacency. Just a few years ago, when I was contracting in southern Indiana, if my customers felt secure in the balances in their 401K and mutual fund accounts, and their houses continued appreciating, they spent money--a few spent money like drunken sailors (the ones I was more comfortable with tended to be more careful). Now stocks are down, retirement accounts are shrinking, house prices have plummeted, new home construction is way down, and the news is full of doom and gloom.

I do not claim to know what will happen. I don't think it will be as bad as the worst of the predictions, but I don't put much stock in the rosiest projections, either. There have been a lot of excesses in a lot of areas--mismanagement, misuse of credit, misplaced trust, and others, both in business and in government. I think we as a people are having our assumptions and our belief systems tested--will they hold water or not? My hope is that many will see the emptiness and shallowness of what they trusted in, and turn to the Source of Living Water, and values that will see them through tough times.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Schaeffer and the Emerging Church

After a long absence, I'm back, and with some new material. For Christmas my wife and kids went together and got me the Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer-- a five-volume set containing the 22 books he wrote. I had 8 of them before, and had read a couple more over the years, but never had all his writings available before. So I've been working through them, and finding a lot to appreciate.

In "The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century" (originally published in 1970, apparently revised and updated for the "Complete Works" in 1981) Schaeffer declared in Chapter 4, "Form and Freedom in the Church," that the church would have to change to meet the challenges of our changing culture. He laid out eight Biblical mandates for the form of the church: That there would be congregations of Christians, that they would meet in a special way on the first day of the week, that local elders should be responsible for the churches, with deacons to see to material needs, that these should be chosen according to the Biblical qualifications Paul laid out in his letters, that they must take discipline seriously, that local churches may come together as in Acts 15 to decide some issues, and that the Lord's Supper and baptism must be practiced. He saw these as basic and unchangeable; but within the framework of these forms, he said that the church had great freedom to change to meet current situations, as long as the leadership of the Holy Spirit was followed. He saw church buildings as optional; if you have one, be thankful, but if you don't your congregation is no less a church. He did not even mention professional pastors (seminary-trained or otherwise). He believed the church should meet on the first day of the week, but said the time of day "was left totally open". He didn't even touch on the proper music for services!

I'm going to quote a few passages:

"I am not saying that it is wrong to add other things as the Holy Spirit so leads, but I am saying that we should not fix these things forever--changing times may change the leading of the Holy Spirit in regard to these. And certainly the historic accidents of the past (which led to certain things being done) have no binding effect at all."

From Chapter 5:

"Let us speak where the Scripture has spoken. But let us notice that we must also respect the silences. Within every form, there is freedom....I suggest that where the Bible is silent, it indicates a freedom within the scriptural form."

"If the church will allow freedom for changing situations, churches will be here until Jesus comes back. But let us not mistake historical accidents and what is sociologically comfortable out of our past for God's absolutes either in rules of personal dress or in the forms that individual churches take in individual situations."

And finally "Let us be thankful there is a given form. Then let us be careful to make sure that we are not bound by unbiblical forms, by forms which we have become used to and which have no absolute place in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In regard to the polity and practice of the church, except for the clearly given Biblical norms, every other detail is open to negotiation among God's people under the leadership of the Holy Spirit."

He was writing these things 27 years ago at least, maybe 38 years ago. And today, change is happening in some places: house churches, emerging churches, even "free-range" Christians--and some who cling to the old ways and spend a lot of time bashing those who are making changes. He did not see much future for those who "ossified" (his word) in the old ways and refused to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

By the time he died in 1984, Francis Schaeffer was widely regarded as one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth-century church. But unlike many, he did not spend his later years reliving the battles of his past, but focused on what his readers would need to do and be in the years to come. He was a conservative Presbyterian, not a Charismatic or Pentacostal, but I believe he was a genuine prophet of God.