In this article Benjamin Clow looks at how we approach Church and the faith.
I see them, after the service. They sneak up to the preacher, sometimes even before he’s finished the benediction, like vultures to a dead animal still warm. They don’t seem moved by the sermon. They haven’t come because they’ve felt God speak to them or convict them through the preaching of his word. But instead, they have arrived with their invisible Bingo card, ready to show how many theological points discovered and how many were missing. Or, perhaps, they’ve come up to question the definition of a Greek or Hebrew word or maybe they are waiting around eagerly with their hands in their pockets until someone asks them an opinion on a celebrity pastor. These people are members of what I like to call, the cult of the academia.
The cult of the academia is real and rife in the Reformed Movement today, and Satan is having a field day with it. The most pernicious idols in a Christian’s life are those which provide a false closeness to God. When Aaron built the golden calf, it wasn’t some new god he had decided to worship; he had made a graven image of God to direct his praise to. Aaron desired a physical representation of God to worship and draw near to. So he built one out of gold. Golden calves appear today, in different forms, as idols which we draw near to and worship.
Those who obsess over spiritual gifts, signs and wonders do so because it provides them with a false sense of closeness towards God. They gain an inner feeling that God is real, because of this power or miraculous event they have witnessed. That is how an idol is created. We do the same with theology. This false sense of closeness is best summarised by that well-known mantra, where we confuse “knowing God” as “knowledge of God”. It is deeper than that though. It started as a reaction against Pentecostals and liberals who have long ago placed experience and sensation above theological knowledge and a correct reading of the Word. This reaction, of course, went too far towards a deep-centered arrogance that God would surely bless ministry because of their correct doctrine. This slowly rules out the role of the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned by these people, usually in lip-service, but to them, it isn’t the Spirit who saves, but the man with the PhD who has respect in the community, theologians on the bookshelves and elegance of speech. If only we had remembered 1 Samuel 16:7 “ For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Why this anger towards this subject? Because I was one of them. My prayer life and bible reading was a shambles, but my excitement over biblical theology, big long words was mistaken for spiritual growth and maturity. This spiritual health is so often not measured the right way. It is not measured by earnest prayer, by the desire for holy living, by a real humility, it is not defined by a love for God and a love for others. Instead spiritual health is so often defined wrongly, by many who would never admit it, on academic knowledge. How much RC Sproul have you read? What is your grasp of Covenental theology? Suitability for pastoral positions is usually judged by either nepotism, financial backing or doctrinal correctness. Where is personal holiness? Where is the desire for the lost to be saved? Or a burning compassion to preach the word which overflows from everything you say and do? Where is a proper call? There is no seminary in New Zealand suitable for the raising up of biblical, Reformed Christian men to pastoral ministry. There is no defined pathway,we may pretend there is, but there isn’t. And even for those who have forked the thousands to go over to one, they are being prepared for scholarly endeavours rather than pastoral ministry. You know the saying: if you can’t be a preacher, be a lecturer.
Christianity is the weakest it’s been in this country since before Samuel Marsden arrived on New Zealand soil. Yet how many people, having received theological degrees, are sitting on pews? Do they feel a zeal or a burden to preach? Do they feel the weight of all those lost souls, on their way to hell? No. They want to be lecturers. They want to be academics; with some of them opening up to “slipping into an assistant pastor role when they’re in their forties.”. If God is to bring a revival to New Zealand, it won’t be through academic institutions, created by academics for academics. It will be through God-Called ministers who preach the word, not in a theological eco-chamber, but to the lost and needy.
It is very easy to grasp the problem and point the finger; but what is the solution to all this? We must resist the temptation to now take a lesser interest in the Bible. Some churches see the rising cult of the academics, and with that the dead orthodoxy which is ensured, and they long for the intimacy and love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Yet they try to find this church warmth outside the truths of the Bible. The words “the Gospel” is tossed around in these churches but it is scarcely preached, sparingly proclaimed and half-heartedly explained. Preaching is diminished in favour of YouTube clips and Bible studies become places where everyone gets to talk about their feelings and views. The cult of the academics is soon defeated by the emotions and social gatherings of a weekly club, who hide their lack of substance through highly-developed Christian language. A Godly church does not equate to less theology and it doesn’t mean taking the Bible less seriously. It does not mean less preaching or less reading. It means making sure we are taking it seriously in the right way. It means praying and ensuring that the truths we believe aren’t there to make ourselves look good and holy. Truth and correct doctrine without application is useless.
So what is the solution then? What can we be praying for? What is it, exactly, that we need? What we need is a move of the Gospel, to not merely the cerebral, but to the very core of one’s being. If you are a leader in the Church, or feel yourself growing in leadership positions, are you asking yourself the right questions? Questions such as: Has the power of the Christian message taken a hold of me? Is my Christian faith not a switch I turn off and on, whenever I see fit, in between childish jokes and worldly pursuits? Am I treating God’s word with both reverence and compassion? And above all, am I burdened for the lost? Am I properly realising the power that preaching and pastoring has towards bringing the dead to life? We must pray to the LORD that he would give us both respect for the Word, love for it and love for his people. Only through a work of the Holy Spirit can this destructive cult be defeated.