If you’ve poked around Vibrance very much you know I’m re-reading a book I read about fifteen years ago, called Fan the Flame, by Joseph M. Stowell.
I read fast. I like to take in the basic, general truths of a book quickly and efficiently, then come back and peruse select chapters and follow up on the !, Key and Yess! marks I leave in margins or Selah – or YBH? (Yes, but how?)
Not this time.
This time I’m reading a chapter and thinking on it,
turning it over and bovinely chewing some more.
Last spring a men’s small group I’ve belonged to for a couple years worked their way through 2 Peter, and something Stowell said on pages 41 – 44 has connected the dots for me. I’m thinking about it. Here’s what Peter said (2 Peter 2.1-2 – italics are mine)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words…
Here’s what Stowell describes as having happened to the evangelical church in the US. He has one-word summaries for each but I’m going to use the definitions instead. One-word descriptors are too easily taken for labels and I want you to read objectively if you can; I’ll summarize.
Describing the ’70s Stowell said we learned to live for ourselves. “Look out for number one.” self-fulfillment and sticking up for our rights became key operatives.
Next came the acceptance of all systems of thought as basically legitimate; nothing was invalid. Christianity is fine but not final. Don’t impose it on anyone.
That being true we were ready to accept the pursuit of pleasure as the meaning of existence. Personal happiness became more important than what is right or wrong, and we found ourselves applying this even to unborn life.
We began to make a clear distinction between the sacred and the secular and decided not to mix the two.
We began to live to gain. Accumulation became the national anthem of the modern American way.
Everyone is now his own authority over every issue in his own life. All the old authoritative rules are gone.
As a result, Stowell says (these excerpts from pp 42- 44)
…our world has changed, but in the process, more tragically, believers in Christ have changed. We have lost the edge of righteousness—that very thing that makes us both different and effective.
Our sensitivity to authority has changed. By and large we Christians pick and choose what we like to hear and like to believe, what we like to do and not do. The absolute authority of God’s Word is often lost in the shuffle of our personal preferences.
Our sense of purity has changed. Things on television that once caused red flags in our spirits may even bring a smile to our faces. … We subscribe to channels on our cable systems that bring unrighteousness into our living rooms. I hear us saying that we are “mature enough” to handle the input of nudity, pornographic innuendo, and violence.
We preach less of heaven, hell and eternity and more of this life, happiness and temporal success.
We are becoming more comfortable with the use of alcohol as a beverage—while the world becomes more concerned about its effects.
Our churches refuse to deal with the breakup of the home, immorality, and divisive behavior among their members.
Success by the world’s standards has become the goal of churches that go to any lengths to become big and well-known. Instead of complementing one another, our churches compete to be the largest or fastest growing in our communities.
Materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, health and happiness are not proclaimed by television evangelists and pastors alike as being the highest achievement of a person’s faith.
… some have awakened but have recoiled into a legalistic isolationism that was unknown to our fathers. Such isolationism leaves us unable to influence our world for Christ.
…If we do not reestablish personal righteousness in our changing world, we will forfeit our ability to make a difference in people’s lives. Impact on our world demands the uniqueness of Christ. We cannot make a difference if we are not different. We will lose our next generation.
We were warned, weren’t we?
Peter told us straight up. It’ll come in slow, secretly introduced, but lookout.
He was right.
Many are following sensuality, (Trust me. I know its draw as acutely as anyone) the way of the truth is continually maligned; and our greed has set us up for exploitation – BIG-time.
So what IS our goal? There are many verses we could go to. My favorite, though, is in the opening paragraphs of Paul’s letter to the young pastor, his son in the faith, Timothy. He’s describing similar dangers and says:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1.5)
That’s worth chewing on!
Love from a pure heart.
A good conscience.
Someone has to define pure – if we each do it we’ll never arrive at a standard. Let’s use God’s definition, shall we?
What’s a good conscience? One that’s tender (or tender again), willing to change behavior in the direction of right living, avoid the discomfort of the Spirit’s convicting work, one that’s able to detect the Lord’s silent disapproval and quickly adjust. (I remember my mom used to look at me from across the room and raise one eyebrow. I could avert punishment by changing my behavior without her having to say a word – if I would. That’s the idea, I think.)
A sincere faith. The kind of faith that proves true when someone holds us up to the light.
Yep, we were warned. And now it’s time to prayerfully, earnestly, determine to return. It’s a lot like deciding to get out of debt, in a way. “‘Tain’t gonna be easy – but it will certainly be worth it!”
I don’t have the time, nor the desire to play Jr-Holy Spirit in the lives of those spreading these lies around. (He’s qualified; I’m not!)
But I am committed to teaching the truth in winsome and convincing ways. To invite people to reason together, to dig into the Word and find out what it says. Don’t take it because I said so, let’s go find out what it says. The Word is a light to our path – let’s hold it up, see what it says.
Something tells me the church in America is a long way off the path. It’s our own fault – we were warned.
I can’t imagine hearing “Oh, you poor things” from on High. But I do know He’ll lead us back if we’ll ask Him.
(OK – think I’m ready for chapter four now. )