Revived, Not Arrived

or The Church with the Big Head


Human talent amazes me. Totally aside from the child prodigies, we are an extremely gifted bunch. After only a couple of decades on the planet, from those who have the opportunity to apply themselves with enthusiasm to their particular area of interest, we see some incredible achievements. For the godless, this should certainly seem miraculous. But for our dark hearts it just proves how smart and wonderful we already are in ourselves. This is the ingratitude Paul speaks of.

For Christians, talent (or beauty or wealth) is just another dead giveaway of God’s existence. And God Himself almost seems to despise this early glory as a short-lived covering of wildflowers that appears suddenly after some long-awaited rain. This is the glory of youth and it is insufferably vain. It exalts itself by calling its competition dumb and ugly.

It’s even worse when we don’t grow out of it. We bury our talent, even build a civilisation upon it, and pretend there will be no reckoning. One of the characteristics of ungodly men and kingdoms is the belief that because they are strong they can do no wrong, that the process of maturation through history, under the shaping hands of God, is no longer (or never was) necessary. [1] They think they are springs instead of channels.

Fools like this refuse correction. Fools like Obama neither learn from history nor listen to sound advice. Fools like Dawkins might postulate about future evolution for mankind, but in their hearts they revel in the idea that they are the gold at the end of the refining process. While the gifted, gilded and good-looking regard their talents, heredity or inheritance as personal achievements, the Spirit-led come to see themselves as good bread baked by God to be broken.

The faithful always become aware of this. By the Spirit, they know correction and humility. They understand that this willingness to be broken is our very hold on the future. Death is a door to the greater glory of resurrection. Any institution or administration that claims to have arrived, that needs no further grace from God, is the one that trades in God as a commodity. It loves to turn stones into bread, cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and buy the power of the Spirit with cold, hard cash.

But history is a series of deaths and resurrections, from glory to glory, and the only way to escape this humiliating process is to disconnect yourself from history and replace it with a fiction that puts you out of the reach of the correcting Hand of God. You defiantly hop off the unstoppable eschatological train and are left forever standing at the station. The Kiplingesque story of evolution puts atheists out of God’s reach, so they think. Liberal historians have worked hard to put western civilisation out of God’s reach.

This self-exaltation over actual history is also the key to understanding the Reformation. Jeff Meyers says:

What we call the Reformation was in truth one of the biggest death-and-resurrection events for all the regional churches in the Middle Ages. But it wasn’t the first. The church had been suffering and dying, humbly, periodically, in various regions for many years. This produced reform in the church, and advanced Christian culture as well. Sometimes Rome participated in these events. A reforming pope would promulgate needed corrections. But later on, especially, Rome became the enemy of the prophetic movement of the Spirit through the Word of God to bring death and resurrection to the churches. Rome solidified her opposition at Trent, where she proclaimed herself to be the “eschatologically arrived,” glorified church. Bad move.

[Here's] a reading from Karl Barth. Barth has some good things to say. He’s not always wrong. He latches onto a problem that is really bedeviling our communities right now… All this talk about community, community. Of course, in the Roman Catholic Church it’s the body, the congregation. He says there’s a danger in this, and it consists in

“an exaggerated estimate of the greatness of the community, in consequence of an equally exaggerated estimate of its present existence in relation to the future. Or, as we may also say, of a failure to recognise the criticism of the Holy Spirit, whose work keeps the community moving toward its Lord in dissatisfaction with its present condition. When this is not perceived, the community, or “the church” as it loves to call itself, forgets that it is on the march, and that the inauguration of the consummation is still to come. Instead of bearing witness to the authority of Jesus, it invests itself with its own authority, attributing absolute perfection to its order and cultus and dogma, and interpreting historical progress as the automatic development of the divine truth incarnate in itself. Thus, at each successive stage of its development, it acts and speaks as if it were itself permitted and commanded to blow the last trumpet now. Its doctrine, at any given moment, is the normative voice of Jesus and His apostles. Its tradition perpetuates the original apostolic witness, claiming equal dignity and attention. But in these circumstances, what place is there for Christian hope? The church of Rome is the typical form of this de-eschatologised church.”

No eschatology, no movement, no march, no continuation, no humility, no acceptance of the Spirit’s criticism through the Word of God and the prophetic voice of people in the church. We’re here. We’re it. It’s us. Submit to us, our tradition, our dogma. The Roman Church, I pray, will be reformed some day, maybe a thousand years from now. She is not the arrived church. [2]

Before the Reformation, things were dark for those with the Spirit. It seemed there was no hope for a corrupted Christianity.

When things are dark, and unbroken men fancy themselves as gods, brave men of faith pick up the cross as a door and walk through it. They drag their own flesh through it, kicking and screaming. And the unbroken kingdoms inevitably get dragged kicking and screaming through it in their glorious eschatological train. This is our work, and in its every occurrence, no matter how mundane, we transform the world.

For Christians, it’s easier to hold onto our lives loosely. Like Abraham, we know something better awaits us. As Tozer puts it, we know “the blessedness of possessing nothing.” But we also need to hold onto our confessions, traditions and institutions wisely but loosely. Until the last day, these too can only ever be baby sacs and wineskins.

[1] See also The Significance of Jabal and Jubal, Omega Males, Where the Wild Things Were, and Knowledge and Wisdom.
[2] Jeffrey Meyers, On the Significance of Martin Luther’s Name Change, “The Necessity of the Reformation,” 2010 Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference. Series available from Auburn Avenue Media.

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