Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Quote of the Day: Tozer on the Church


"A religious mentality characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and, to a great many persons, just plain boresome. This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers in direct lineal descent from Christ and the apostles. We spoon-feed this insipid pabulum to our inquiring youth and, to make it palatable, spice it up with carnal amusements filched from the unbelieving world. It is easier to entertain than to instruct, it is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself, so too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowds."

A. W. Tozer, "We Need Sanctified thinkers," God Tells the Man who Cares (Cumbria, UK: OM Publishing, 1994), 124.

I believe Tozer, in his essays on the contemporary Christian church, had rightly captured the essence of the "Evangelical problem." His elaborate and deliberate usage of adjectival phrases gives us an accurate, albeit prophetic, description of Christendom as it is today. And it is amazing that he was able to discern these issues decades ahead of our time.

As I am of the Reformed persuasion, I will speak of evangelicalism as it is epitomized by the Reformed churches in Singapore today. My observations and opinions might be representative of Reformed churches elsewhere in the world, but only the reader can affirm my suspicion. Nevertheless, it is thought that Evangelicalism today is characterized by "timidity and lack of moral courage." Instead of the fiery sermons exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount, some churches today resort to a euphemistic paraphrasing of offensive terminologies, coupled with the additions of somnolent chants and Victorian English which are supposed to be an intellectual rendition of Reformation sayings and discourses. Instead of preaching and bringing forth the Word of Christ in an attempt to trouble the conscience of the listeners, the sermons are designed to tickle the carnal intellect and interests of the church-goers. Such a form of Christianity does not bear any resemblance, if at all, to the religion of our Lord and the Apostles. The church has successfully stripped the content of the Bible of all its exhortations to challenge the soul, and the commandments of our Lord for a radical reformation of life fit for the Kingdom of God. Those who hear the sermons seldom feel the necessity for reform or change. This is because those sermons only serve to persuade the intellect of its hearers, but never manage to get their conscience into trouble with God. And unless the preacher is able to get the listeners to re-examine their lives on bended knees, Evangelicalism and Reformed Christianity must remain to be "flabby," "intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and … boresome."

This is not due to the ineffectiveness of the Word to divide asunder the soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12). But the Word coupled with moral cowardice cannot bring forth the intent of the Holy Ghost. The face of many preachers light up whenever there are discussions on the various elements of proper homiletics. But here is an element that requires diligent adherence: the Word must be preached faithfully, courageously, and as it is. There is not so much as the dearth of the Word, but rather the cowardly, lily-livered preaching of the Word in Reformed churches today that is eating away the biblical foundations of the Reformation. Instead of entreating and challenging the pew-warmers within our churches to live holy lives according to the high standards of the Bible (and mind you, the standards of the Bible are high), they are treated to the chaff, wood and stubble of community activities, fellowship fun, and coffee breaks. And all of these are done in the name of love, peace and togetherness. There is little wonder that believers today know so little of the cross-carrying, self-sacrificial, and world-denying lives of the first-century Christians.

We cannot and must not replace the homiletical challenges to holy living with the fun, games, and joy of community activities. For without the testimony of the saints, the disciplinary oversight of the church, and the purity of Christ in our lives, the church will inevitably denigrate herself to the level of a community centre or a public amusement park. If the church fails to challenge her members - who would in turn challenge the worldly zeitgeist - how can we ever call ourselves the salt and light in this world? Unless the church is able to shout to the world, "We are holy as God is holy", what differences then lie between us and them? Are we so conformed to the world such that we are indistinguishable from the world?

Tozer summarized the issues succinctly - "It is easier to entertain than to instruct, it is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself." Furthermore, it is easier to be the peace-maker, than to be the faithful preacher; it is easier to keep ourselves looking busy, rather than to be holy; it is easier to be the coward, than to be the martyr; it is far easier to be Pilate, than to be John the Baptist, to be Balaam, rather than to be Micaiah. And while we keep ourselves busy keeping the people together so that the church will look larger and warmer, the souls are starved for spiritual food and true communion with the living God. In the meantime, the financial planning and church activities must go on. But how many of us are able to perceive the spiritual blight that is devouring the church like a canker?

One such man is Aidan W. Tozer.

23 comments:

Jenson said...

As a believer of Reformed persuasion, I find AW Tozer to be a "breath of fresh air" - a true "prophet" of his generation. And an Arminian...

(Do I hear "heretic!"?)

ddd said...

Good quote! And great post too.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Don't you think it (the quote) really describes the mentality of certain leaders? Look, we have serious problems in church where the people couldn't be bothered about living like Christians, but the leaders are more concerned about numerous activities like church camps and group outings. They have the time to discuss about all the myriad of activities, and indeed the church REALLY looks BUSY - with LOADS of people and members and visitors - but the number of members that do NOT look like the WORLD are by far very FEW. Sigh. I do not know where Evangelicalism is heading, let alone Reformed churches in Singapore.

Don't you agree that personal testimony is a more urgent matter to attend to than "serving the Church?" Hey, what's the point of serving the Church and looking so busy doing this and that when your wife is never at home, your children are drunk and fornicating, and the husband only manages to look busy and gay (I mean happy) in church? Why, that's a busily serving church member! But other than his "ecclesiastical activites," his neighbors think he is a pagan with a few punks as kids, which are supposed to be baptized, catechized, and pasteurized.

The world still judges us by our walk, not our talk. And the family life is something which is difficult to hide from the eyes of the watching world. The last thing we need are preachers with no moral courage to rebuke sin in the congregation. Sin needs to be rebuked when they are observed, not when everybody had forgotten what the issue is all about.

Jenson said...

"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Acts 2:42

There will always be the same problems in churches, isn't it?

1) Those who have a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge".

& (read in the right way) the opposite...

2) "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."

A better understanding of the "local" church (not "universal", too much ink has been spilt on that one!) and the roles/responsibilities of its members would help.

We could do with less "watchmen" and more "labourers". Want to give that a go, Vincent?

Jenson said...

Something from Michael Haykin, former principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary:

"...brothers in the faith from those bygone eras are seen as great expositors and nothing more. Now, there is no doubt that they were preeminentely preachers. And there is no doubt that the Word was central in their ministries. But, without friendships (is not Calvin the great model of friendship here with his passionate friendships with Farel and Viret? Or the spiritual brotherhood among the Puritans, a logical result of which was Baptist ecclesiology) and mentoring relationships(look at the remarkable Baxter in Kidderminister) the Word does not have a context in which to bear fruit.

When I first read the life of that quintessential Reformed loner, A.W. Pink, I thanked God for his great insights into the Word in a day when Reformed truth was not in high demand. But I was horrified (and I do not say that word lightly) by his isolationism and lack of concern for friendship and fellowship. Surely, the love of the truth should lead to a walking in the light with fellow lovers!

A bit off the main point here, but an important insight.

vincit omnia veritas said...

dear Jenson,

I will be posting on the local church issue very soon. In the meantime, I got to finish some assignments for a module which closes this weekend! Perhaps I can squeeze in a primer?

Also, I hope the readers will be able to differentiate hyperbole from factual information. I do not want folks to ask, “So who is the smiling church member with fornicating drunks as children and the great Houdini as a wife?” Well, I believe only you know your own family situation well enough to provide that answer. As far as I am concerned, I do not know of friends-in-Christ with that kind of life.

ddd said...
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Jenson said...

That's the whole point, Daniel. "Ye shall know them by their fruits"

AW Pink has been discussed as a classic, albeit unique, case of isolationism - although it pleased the Lord that his writings were more valued AFTER he passed away - e.g. Studies in Scripture.

Daniel, you may think that your role in CCC and your blog serves as a "ministry", but like I said many times before - what about your role in your local church? What is your relationship like with your pastor/elders? Are you accountable to them? How do you serve your fellow brothers and sisters in your local church? Do you pray for the needs of your local church?

It was that in mind, that I asked Vincent to write something about the local church. He has the maturity and, I trust, an involvement in his church to have a better understanding of the real issues facing Christians.

I'm sorry, Daniel, I cannot say the same about you.

Jenson said...

Took a while for me to find this verse - I thought it was "gathering", when it was "assembling" (Good Brethreny word there!)...

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:24,25

vincit omnia veritas said...

A note: For those who are bothered by my mentioning of “Reformed churches,” I was referring broadly to contemporary Protestantism as represented by the Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed denominations that had came out of the Reformation.

But surely my post should not trouble the faithful man of God.

ddd said...
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ddd said...
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Jenson said...

Daniel,

You have not dealt with my questions about your role(s) in your local church.

My dear wife has no parachurch background and no blog to sound her views, but she has been a servant of the Met Tab for 8 years - teaching Sunday School and proof-reading books for our pastor. She also worked for them for 1 year. She has been worshipping and serving in a sound church. Anything wrong with that?

Now let's come back to the real issue - what would your pastor/elders say about you at CERC?

ddd said...
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Jenson said...

Daniel,

You wrote:

"I challenge you to come back to Singapore, settle down here and serve in a local church here!... When you accept my challenge, then I will start listening to what you have to say."

I have a wife, 2 babies and another on the way. I have a job as well. But most importantly, I have made my commitment to the Met Tab here in London - for now.

However, since you brought up my lack of committment to churches in Singapore, I will say that I have some informal ties with Singaporean churches - namely Bethesda Ang Mo Kio (through Jason Lim, my brother and church librarian), Maranatha BPC (through Rev. Jack Sin). Please speak to them if you wish to verify what I am saying.

I believe they would be happy to have me as their member. I believe in serving and committing oneself to a church. Hence, I would try to

1) participate in the services of the church (Sunday and weekdays) - not just to sit in the pews, or learn about the gossip in the church, but to be a "beloved brethren". This is the most difficult part of the Christian Life.

2) volunteer to help in their Sunday School/Adult Bible Classes - currently I teach SS in the Met Tab

3) help promote Christian literature - currently, I help with a "book table" at Orange Street

I believe I can get "letters of commendation" (so-Brethreny!) from the Met Tab and/or the Assembly of Christians at Orange Street to facilitate my way back to Singapore - if the need arises.

However, my family are here at UK and this is our calling (for now).

Spiritual Israel said...

I am compelled to say that I agree with Jenson wholeheartedly - about his emphasis on the role of the local church in the life of a Christian. His quote on the life of A.W Pink and Tozer is indeed very valuable. I hope we listen very carefully to what he has said. They are gems! Jenson, do continue to write. The great question is always, "what is our relationship to the local church and what's our role in the church".

I believe blogs are meant to sharpen our thinking biblically and to check our waywardness. If someone has pointed out our weakness and sins, I hope we have the grace to confess and repent of our sins. Being contentious and argumentative does not help.

"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneths the countenance of his friend". Prov. 27.17

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hi Daniel,

I really think you shouldn't have deleted your comments just like this. It makes Jenson's comments look silly and out of place.

The logic is as such: If you pulled the comments because you do not want Jenson to be hurt by them, then it is not necessary. Jenson did read those comments. Likewise, Pastor Goh and the rest who frequent this blog had read your comments.

What, then, is the reason? If you feel you need to apologize, then go and apologize! There's no need to delete those comments.

I understand that you had some personal difficulties the past week or so. Perhaps there are many things we do not understand. But deleting those comments may create the unwanted suspicion (to those who did not read the comments) that you had written something REALLY nasty, and that you do not have the audacity to admit it, which I realize that you presumably have the courage to do so.

Then why would you delete those comments?

ddd said...

Eh... I have apologized to Jenson; up to him whether to accept, and a general version is on my blog. I thought it prudent to remove the comments made in anger, though of course it may not seem that way to others. Whatever, I don't exactly care about my reputation as much as whether I am doing what is right in God's sight.

Jenson said...

Hi Daniel,

I am not going to comment about you removing your comments. I do not blame you for anything, so there is no need for apologies here. What we were hoping for is that you will mature in the faith (and I do not just mean passing exams, girlfriends, etc).

When the Lord pulls you through, you will better understand the ways of the Lord, and how to deal with His People. If you spend more time in His Word, and in prayer, that will soften the blows of this life.

I have a big mountain to climb in the next 6 months or so. By the end of this month, I would have 4 dependents, and I would have no job (no salary). I have migraines almost every week, stressing about the future.

Reading His Word and prayer (individually and with the family) are so important, but also the "prayers of His saints". I know there are Christians who are praying for me, and I am indebted to them.

Hope this will make you think about things.

Spiritual Israel said...

Dear Jansen,
From your writings, I have a desire to know you better. Could you drop me a note or whether you have a website or blog that tell me more about you. my email is: paulgoh3@singnet.com.sg

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear Pastor Paul Goh,

Love within the Church attracts the world; while holiness within the Church convicts the world.

Yours truly,
Vincent Chia

Spiritual Israel said...

Vincent, well said. But, the process of saint-making is still not completed. It is a work in progress.

Mat. 12.20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

Evangelical books said...

Hi Pastor Goh,

This is Jenson. Greetings! I have sent you an email to introduce myself. I very rarely log in to my own blogger account, hence I just rove. I used to blog, but now I don't - I find it unprofitable for my Christian walk, though I believe others find it helpful to crystalise their thoughts into a blog - to each his own.

I have 3 boring blogs

1) one made up of links to Christian book publishers;
2) one consists of Christian books I like or would like to buy (a reminder for myself);
3) Geneva Books will (DV) be an advertisment platform for a friend who runs a very large 2nd-hand Christian bookshop in London. This is a "work in progress"!

Hope you will find my "company" useful/helpful. I had asked Vincent to write something about "the local church - its members, roles and responsibilities".

Funny thing is, I have not found much material written by Reformed community (Presbyterians or Baptists alike). Majority comes from the Plymouth Brethren. Says a lot about us?



PS:"...the process of saint-making is still not completed. It is a work in progress."

I agree with that. Question for the saint-in-making - has there been any work done recently and is there any progress in one's sanctification? If not, why not?