Thursday, January 4, 2007

Cliche- "I have a personal relationship with God" Part 4

What does it mean when someone is biblical? How does one become more biblical?

Let me answer this first by explaining what being biblical does not mean. Being Biblical does not necessarily mean that you hold fast to Biblical truth. Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics hold to Biblical truth. Athiest's hold to Biblical truth (because they affirm the necessity for love etc.). Everyone holds to biblical truth.

What then does it mean to be biblical? Being Biblical has to do with holding to everything that the Bible says. Being Biblical has to do with emphasizing the things that the Bible emphasizes, and to the extent that the Bible emphasizes it.

Many today hold to the biblical idea that Christians are to have a personal relationship with God, BUT they are not Biblical about it. In other words, they put an unbiblical emphasis on it and therefore ignore or downplay other crucial aspects of the Scriptures. This fault is most evidently seen in the modern day Emergent Church movement. I have had numerous talks with people who are embracing the ideals and convictions of the Emergent church movement.

Now, the Emergent church movement is far too diverse to generalize it on the whole, but one of the overwhelming characteristics of the movement is the pessimistic view of the institutional structure of Church. The Emergent church strives to get the church back to the way it was in the NT. Therefore, they see the value of not having formal meetings, pews, pulpits. They do not dress up when they go to church. Many of them meet in houses.

Many of them even go so far that they say that going to church really isn't all that important. The important thing is that you have your own personal time with God. The Mega Church movement, in many cases, has done the same exact thing. Many Mega Churches provide the option of becoming a member through the television. The idea is that you become a member of a church, but rather than actually going to the service, you attend church by watching the service on TV. Why? Because the matter of importance is not in going to church, but in having a personal relationship with God.

I have talked to many people who refuse to go to church, because they "don't need" it. They say that their church is in their heart. Whatever that means. "All that matters," they say, "is that I have a personal relationship with God."

Are these sorts of people Biblical? NO! Of course not. Let me ask another question. Are these people embracing biblical truth? Of course they are! They are embracing the fact that Christians are to have a personal relationship with God, BUT they are unbiblical because they are putting more emphasis on it than the Bible does so much so that they ignore and misinterpret other aspects of the Scriptures.

Are Christians to embrace this idea that we are to have a personal relationship with God? Yes, of course we are, but we are to be Biblical about it.

What does it mean, from the Bible, to have a personal relationship with God? What does this look like? Guess what! The Bible does not go into great detail about this. The Bible puts great emphasis on prayer, but, according to the Bible, what is prayer? Prayer is essentially petition. Prayer is asking God for stuff! Look at the model prayer in Matt 6. Every little part of that prayer is petition except for the very beginning when Jesus addresses God as "Our Father who art in heaven."

Prayer, according to the Bible, is not straight up communion with God. I am not saying that the Bible does not teach that we are to have straight up communion with God, I am merely saying that straight up communion with God is not prayer. Prayer is pettition.

The Bible commands us to "rejoice in the Lord always." This obviously has to do with a believers joy in the Lord. Thankfulness for who He is and what He does. The Bible says in John 17 that eternal life is knowing God. What does it mean to "know God?"

Let me look unspiritual for a moment. You cannot know God without first knowing about God. Knowing God begins with knowledge and fact. You cannot know God without first learning about Him. The more you know about God the greater your relationship with God becomes.

I believe that the Bible is much more practical than we could ever imagine. I think knowing God has more to do with every day life than it does with our devotionals.

Knowing God starts out with embracing theology. "What? Man! You must be a cold hearted seminarian! Knowing God begins with embracing theology?" Yes! Knowing God begins with the recognition of who He is and what He has done. You cannot have a relationship with God apart from the knowledge of what He has done for you in Christ.

Your relationship with God begins at conversion. The knowledge of what God has done for you in Christ fuels and sustains your relationship with God. The great bulk of a believers relationship with God has to do with over flowing (intellectual) gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ. The more the believer knows about what God has saved him/her from, the more thankful that believer is. The more the believer knows about who God is the more the believer wants to know God, the more the beliver wants to know about God, the more the beliver loves God.

Why do we believe that devotionals and prayer times are the places where the believer experiences God? Where, from the Scriptures, do we have warrant to teach and believe this? The Bible, as read in context, does teach that the Spirit is present with us while we are praying. This is why we can "pray in the Spirit." We pray what the Spirit brings to mind. The Bible also teaches that the Spirit is present when we read our Bibles. This is why David asks that he might behold wonderful things in the law. But the Spirit is just as present in the work force, and while you are driving, or while you are on the phone with your grandmother.

For some unknown reason when most Christians talk about prayer and devotions they speak as if that is where they meet the Lord. Devotionals are the place where it is just them and God, and this is the place where if they are silent enough they will hear the voice of God. This place of solitude is where the believers relationship with God is the strongest. Where does this teaching come from? It is true that Jesus went off by Himself on occassion to pray and be alone with God, and it is true that Christians ought to pray continuously, but where ever does the Bible teach that this is where our relationship with God is at it's best. Where, in the Scriptures, does it say that a believer's relationship with God will only be as strong and vibrant to the degree that the believer spends time in devotion and prayer?

Why are prayer and devotional reading held in such high esteem in today's version of Chrstianity? Are they held as high in the Bible?

Here is an honest answer: The Bible does hold them in high esteem. In fact, the Bible commands us to pray. The one who does not live a life of prayer is one who lives a life of sin. The Bible also holds Bible reading in high esteem. The Bible is the place where Christian's are informed of what is right and true. The Bible is that which forms and shapes our beliefs, values etc. The Bible holds these things in the highest regard. But the Bible does not necessarily distinguish between devotional and intellectual reading of the Scriptures. Why do we make these distinctions. When the Bible is read correctly application and devotion flow out of the text. One of the greatest enemies to context driven interpretation is devotional reading (I will speak about this in a later post).

Why do we enshrine prayer and devotional reading to be that which characterizes the truly spiritual ones? Does the Bible give us warrant to do this?

The Bible does not set up prayer and devotional reading to be that which helps us gauge another believer's spirituality. 1 Cor 13 tells us that love for the brethren is that which expresses spiritual maturity. The Corinthian church was experiencing much division and grief. One of the things that fueled this division was a misunderstanding of spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church was very charismatic. Therefore the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy were held in high regard. Paul had no conflict with this. What Paul was concerned about was how they were using the gifts as a way of gauging how spiritual they were. The more one spoke in tongues the more spiritual he was. The use of spiritual gifts, according to the Corinthian church, was the test of true spirituality. This was causing all sorts of problems in the church. Paul confronted their problem by telling them that love, not the use of spiritual gifts, is the way to gauge how spiritual someone is.

How Spiritual are you? Well, How much do you love?

How Spiritual are you? How close are you with the Lord? How is your personal relationship with God these days? "Well Jimmy, I pray 3 hours a day. I read my Bible devotionally 3 hours a day as well?" Well, since when is that the gauge of Spirituality?

Remember that Jesus fought against the Pharisees because of they used prayer and devotion to show others exactly how Spiritual they were. In this context Jesus teaches that humility is that which exhibits spirituality. Humility expressed in prayer and devotion divorced from the compliments of men. The Publican in the temple parable (Luke 17) also teaches that humility rather than expressive prayer is that which exhibits true spirituality. Jesus surely did emphasize prayer, but he emphasized forgiveness and love just as much if not more.

A personal relationship with God cannot be had apart from prayer, but that does not mean that prayer is the primary place where this relationship is fostered.

This misunderstanding is the result of over simplying the teachings of Christainity. How is a relationship with God fostered and strengthened? It is strengthed through a life of prayer, Bible study, singing, working, community with believers, evangelism, rearing children, believing the Words of God, memorizing Scripture, working heartily for the Lord, and many other things. This is a very difficult thing for Christians to embrace, because then it becomes a bit more complicated to judge how spiritual the guy sitting next to you in the pew is.

Spirituality and a close walk with God, in the NT, seem to always have something to do with serving others. The one who walks closest with God is the one who is not all that interested on how well he/she is performing the Christian life. He does not have time to keep a close look on how well he is performing because he is too busy serving others.

What does it mean to have a personal relationship with God? If you haven't caught on yet, I haven't really answered this question with any great precision. Why? Because the Bible does not answer this question with any great precision. What I am trying to stress in this post, and especially in this blog, is that your idea of what is true and right ought to come from context driven interpretation. Most people's idea of Spirituality does not come from the Bible. It comes from the modern day slogans of pop culture Christianity.

The one who has a deep personal relationship with God will pray, but he will not emphasize prayer to the exclusion of evangelism, or Bible study or anything like this. The one who has a deep relationship with God will desire fellowship and will seek to love the brethren in practical ways. The one who has a deep relationship with God will believe certain things and reject certain things.

How does one get a personal relationship with God? It does not necessarily come through 6 hr/day devotionals. It comes through obeying the Word of God. It starts with a knowledge of what God has done in Christ. It then expresses itself in obedience to God's commands, and love for God and the brethren.

What does it mean to have a personal relationship with God? I can't necessarily nail it down. God is not here with me in human form. I can't just have a flowing conversation with Him. I can't hold his hand or look Him in the eye. A personal relationship with God has to do with knowledge and joy brought about by that knowledge. It has to do with obedience. It has to do with love. It has to do with service. It has to do with identifying with the Savior in his life and death. It has to do with so many things.

In Philippians 3 Paul says that he wants to know Christ and "the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings." You see, knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him here is directly tied to suffering.

I want to form my idea of what a personal relationship with God is by context driven interpretation. I do not want to say more than what the Bible says when read in context, but I also do not want to say less than what the Bible says read in context.

Most people will not like what I have written in this post for two reasons. First of all, some people will not like this post because a Biblical view of spirituality is not quite so cut and dry. It makes it harder to judge whether a person has a vibrant relationship with God or not. The loud guy who always raises his hands in the worship service and evangelizes like a mad man and knows evertyhing about theology may not be the most mature Chrsitian in the church, because he might not be full of love. At the same time the quiet guy right next to him who is simple minded about everything and never really says anything, but prays a lot also may not be all that spiritual. How can I say this? Well, he may pray to be known as a prayer warrior (you know, like a pharisee), and he also may neglect the command to evangelize.

And second, many may not like this because it makes it harder for them. Being godly is no longer easy. Being godly consists of giving your whole life to the Lord, not just during your devotionals. This is also difficult to swallow because then it becomes all too apparent how ungodly you actually are.

Where do we get our idea of who is close with the Lord and who is not? We need to get it from the Bible. We need to get it from the Bible read in context. It is very dangerous when we start throwing our own ideas of spirituality upon the Bible. This is exactly what the Corinthian chuch did, and it created division. It turned their church into a competitive arena where Christian's would show off and compare their great spirituality. They became a bunch of pharisees.

According to the Bible what is the greatest test of a close relationship with God? From reading scripture in context I am convinced that love and humility are the greatest tests of spirituality.

From our study, how does one pursue a personal relationship with God? By obeying the Word of God. God is not all that impressed with those who pray endlessly when they neglect other pertinent aspects of His Word. Obey God! Learn more about Him! There is no secret to spirituality. It has to do with believing, obeying, and loving God. It has to do with serving and forgiving the Brethren. This is how a relationship with God is nurtured and fostered.

Many people today are running to and fro doing all sorts of crazy things to strengthen their relationship with God. They are getting all bent out of shape and nervous because they just don't seem to be close enough to God. What is their remedy? Well, I need to pray more. I need to pray more. I need to journal more. I need to fast more.

What is the result of all this striving? First of all, if they fail at it they feel that God does not love them. Second of all, they learn to trust in their good performance rather than the Cross. Third of all, if they succeed, they start to look down on those who don't pray or fast as much as they do. They then neglect the wheighter matters of the law. You know, things like forgiveness, love, and humility.

Ideas and goals that are not formed by the Word of God are dangerous.

Context Is King! Sola Scriptura! Be formed by the Word of God alone! Even if it merkys the waters a bit. This clouding of the water may be the thing that forces you to cling to the cross. This clouding of the water may be the thing that keeps you from looking down on others.

In the next post I will share those moments in my life when I knew that I was closest to the Lord.


Joe Schmoe said...

Many Emergent-types are (unfortunately) those who are disillusioned by the institutional church and they engage in church bashing for its own sake. This is clearly wrong. But you've over-generalized.

The emphasis in emergent thought is clearly "Sola Scriptura". Emergent thinkers challenge the institutional church to be willing to do things differently than tradition mandates for the sake of the Gospel. Emergent thought says, "Just because we've been doing it this way for ages doesn't mean it's the right way or the only way." You and Martin Luther know that can get us into big trouble.

For example, there are many who feel (rightly or wrongly) they have been hurt by the church in sme way and will never set foot in one again. Emergent thought says, we can have church in a house, just like the early church did. We don't HAVE to have a building and a budget to be the Church.

There can be some wrong opinions within both the institutional church and the emergent church that drive people one way or the other, but neither is inherently ev

Those who say "I don't go to church...I AM the church" give emergent thought a bad name. The Church is the community of believers, not the individual with his Bible on the couch.

Jimmy Snowden said...

I understand your concern here. Most of those in the Emergent church are not against throwing church out the window. However the majority of those involved with the Emergent church are for getting rid of "institutional Christianity." Institutional Christianity does not mean in modern day Christianesse (necessarily) church in general. It has to do with huge denominations that are set in their old dead beat ways. I am for the Emergent Church on this. We need to meet the culture where it is at. But, their over emphasis on this has caused many (and I said many) emergent types to have a pessimistic attitude toward church altogether. Although this may not be the characteristic of the movement as a whole, it is a characteristic of many in the movement. Including many of the leaders of the movement.

Many of the Emergent Leaders are not for Sola Scriptura. Many of them teach that culture is that which helps you interpret Scripture. Sola Scriptura has to do with being formed by the word of God alone.