I have written more than a few posts which catalog how much of the church has become unhelpful to those who are pursuing true spiritual growth. While it is easy to point to things that are wrong in the church, I have struggled to say what the church should look like in 2021.
To better answer the question of what the church should look like, I have decided to pursue a reading program of works that might help me answer this question.
Recently, I saw a reference to a book by Richard F. Lovelace that I had read many years ago and decided to read again. That book is Dynamics of Spiritual Life.
In the opening chapter, I ran across a paragraph which summarized some of the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards with regard to true revival and what the church should be about.
I share the paragraph below for two reasons.
First, it shows that the problems being experienced in the church are not new. Edwards struggled with them in the early part of the 18th Century.
Secondly, it is a good comparison of the traits of false spirituality with those of a true work of the Holy Spirit.
“Edwards was especially concerned to make clear that fallen human nature is fertile ground for a fleshly religiosity which is impressively “spiritual” but ultimately rooted in self-love. High emotional experiences, effusive religious talk, and even praising God and experiencing love for God and man can be self-centered and self-motivated. In contrast to this, experiences of renewal which are genuinely from the Holy Spirit are God-centered in character, based on worship, an appreciation of God’s worth and grandeur divorced from self-interest. Such experiences create humility in the convert rather than prided and issue in the creation of a new spirit of meekness, gentleness, forgiveness and mercy. They leave the believer hungering and thirsting after righteousness instead of satisfied with self-congratulation. Most important, their end result is the performance of works of mercy and justice.”Richard F. Lovelace in Dynamics of Spiritual Life
When I attend church on Sunday, I should leave the worship service more focused on God, who is to be the tangible subject of the preaching, rather than being impressed with the skill of the preacher and how he held my attention.
This is not to say that there should not be skill displayed in preaching, but the focus should never, ever be on the preacher.
If I remember the cool hairstyle, the trendy fashion, the slick cultural references, the touching illustrations, or the easy manner of the preacher, but don’t come out with a sense of my own need of Christ and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the grace that has been given to me, then I wasted the entire morning.
Focus on the “worship experience” can reinforce my own self-centeredness rather than challenge it. Making stars out of the worship leaders or preachers can do damage to their souls because such false worship will likely promote pride in them.
There is much more that can be learned from the paragraph quoted above, but I will leave it to you to gather your own conclusions. Feel free to share them in the comment section below this post. (For those of you who get this by email, click on the link in the title to go to the post on the web, and then you will be able to comment).