O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.(Psalm 15 ESV)
The following thoughts were brought about by the Louisiana Baptist Convention initiative Awaken 2012.
Spiritual Awakening is a great thing. To be illumined by the Holy Spirit is the most important event that can occur in a person’s life.
However, I have noticed over the years that these sorts of initiatives are rarely accompanied by a call to repentance for the Church. In one of the videos on the Awaken page, David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, says:
We know we cannot program spiritual awakening. We understand that we cannot schedule it in our calendars. But, we can prepare ourselves to receive it and plead with our Heavenly Father to send it.
What does that preparation look like? I believe the blog post, The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity, by Abilene Christian University Professor of Psychology Richard Beck gives us some insight. This sort of preparation falls under the umbrella of personal piety, prayer time, daily devotionals, etc. These are good and valuable things, or at least they can be. Scripture, however, does not point to such things as indicative of our relationship with God. Jesus’ answers were always in line with what we see in Psalm 15. Who will enter heaven? “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.” It is not my argument that salvation is gained through the types of good works described in Psalm 15. I believe that Psalm 15 is descriptive not prescriptive. In other words, I do not believe that the Psalmist is saying if you do these things you will dwell on the holy hill. He is saying that those who will dwell on the holy hill do these things. This point is similar to John’s admonitions about love in 1 John 4. If this is true, what should we make about claims such as Richard Beck’s that, “Many churches are jerk factories.” Or to even go a step further, that some churches produce very kind, but, self-absorbed members. And, how does this relate to revival?
We often hear it said, and some of the videos on the Awaken page indicate, that revival begins in the heart. I believe that to be true. But, I have to admit that I am concerned about the state of the evangelical heart…in this context I will admit that I am concerned about the Louisiana Baptist heart. Our words and actions flow out of the abundance of our hearts. And, I believe we have to pay special attention to our actions. Despite contemporary societies aversion to judging, scripture calls us to make judgments, to discern spirits, to witness the fruit that is produced. The actions that flow out of our hearts are not impressive. I fear that our Christian culture may have replaced genuine repentance with increased works of personal piety. I know a person whose Bible is all marked up from study and frankly shows all the signs of heavy use. But when I look at the works that flow out of this persons life, I see extreme dishonesty and ethical perversion. I see situations where Christian institutions are riddled with issues of integrity and honesty but the outflow from the Church’s heart is not enough to even be bothered by it. I think we need to be wary of assuming that our heart is right. Maybe we need to not seek the emotional or spiritual high that comes from acts of personal piety and instead seek after the transformation that comes from drawing near to God, not with our mouths but with our hearts and thus our actions.
“Our main mission field today, so far as America is concerned, is within the church membership itself.”
– Elton Trueblood
My concern is that, as the church, we are always looking without. Take for example the list of reasons given by the LBC for the Awaken program:
Why do we desperately need this spiritual awakening? A quick scan of the news reveals the continued downward moral and spiritual decline in our state and across our country.
- Louisiana leads the nation in murder rates per 100,000 people
- Louisiana has the second highest crime rate in the nation
- Louisiana leads the nation in certain forms of sexually transmitted diseases
- Louisiana saw 8,167 babies aborted in 2009
- A violent crime of some form occurs every 23.9 seconds.
- A property crime occurs every 3.4 seconds. . .It’s Time!
First, as an aside, I need to make a point about the statistics. Evangelicals use them very poorly, as pointed out in Christianity Today’s article, Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics. After spending four years working for a Christian College I learned to be leery and question statistics. Most of the statistics behind this urgent plea for the need of revival are in categories that have been trending in good ways over the last few decades, crime and abortion most notably. Take for example the Louisiana statistics on abortion. While there were 8,167 abortions in 2009, and that number is far too large. Abortions in Louisiana peaked in 1982 with 19,794. Why the urgency now when abortions are trending in a good way? More problematic though is the claim that Louisiana has the second worse crime rate. It is simply not true. According to the Census Bureau Louisiana is first in murder (excluding the District of Columbia) but is sixth in total crime rate behind Florida, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Texas. In fact given that many of the most crime filled states are within the Bible Belt and some of the lowest crime rates are among the largely un-churched states in the North East, Gospel Saturation seems to have much less to do with crime rates than do poverty rates.
Back to my point, the reasons cited by the LBC for the need of revival are all about the other. Good church going folk do not do the things listed by the LBC. Apparently, the need for revival is about needing to change them. I fully agree that we need revival. But, I think we have the reasons wrong. We need revival not to stop abortion or lower the murder rate (both good goals), but because Christ should be the delight of our heart and frankly our fruit demonstrates that he is not.
Christ said that he did not come to condemn, not because condemnation is not a part of reality but because we were condemned already (John 3:18) yet, the Church today is known for its condemnation. Christ however was clear that we should be known for our love. In fact, he saved his condemnation for the religious who did not realize their own need of repentance. In Matthew 23, Jesus speaks of the Pharisees saying:
practice and observes whatever they tell you- but do not do what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.
I know comparing religious leaders and organizations to the Pharisees is a hackneyed approach and is often rather hyperbolic. That is not my intent. I am not saying that our churches are teaching a gospel of works that does not lead to regeneration as was the case with the Pharisees. What I am saying is that, we are often not living the gospel we preach. We DO need revival. We need to be certain that our actions are an outgrowth of our genuine reliance and resting in God not just “deeds to be seen by others.” We don’t need a revival of our Culture War convictions and prejudices. We need a revival that leads us to, like Christ, proclaim His love not His condemnation. If they do not respond to His love they are condemned already, that is true, but we should not be known for rubbing peoples faces in it. We need revival that is an outgrowth of our fluid desire to turn to God, not a programmatic commemoration, several years in the planning, of the LBC’s 200th anniversary.
November 13, 1812 – Joseph Willis, the first Baptist preacher west of the Mississippi River, constituted Bayou Chicot (Calvary) Baptist Church in Ville Platte. The church is still active. A month earlier, Half Moon Baptist Church on the Bogue Chitto River in Washington Parish was organized. At that time, the land east of the Mississippi River was part of the Florida Parishes. (from The Louisiana Baptist Convention, a brief history)