Purging the Church: Is the Rise in Religious Disaffiliation Necessarily a Bad Thing?

I read an old 2012 news article today which made me consider the secular situation the church finds herself in today.

According to this article, Protestant Christianity in America and Great Britain is decreasing, Catholicism has been flatlining, and “Nones” (those who indicate as having no religion at all) are on the increase.

This paragraph in particular stuck out at me, and I’d like to share it with you:

Those youngsters [the ‘Nones’] who once went to church out of obligation are now spending Sunday mornings in the supermarket or the gym (body worship is a flourishing faith). That means that the only young people in the pews are true believers who really want to be there.

Due to the rise of religious disaffiliation (the act of ceasing to identify oneself with and participate in a religious group), more and more people are leaving church who do not actually want to go to church This largely leaves the true believers remaining.

Now, on one level, this is clearly  bad thing, Of course it’s terrible that less young people are going to church.

But there seems to be something good about it as well. For when people leave church who do not actually want to be there, it seems that all you’re left with is the real deal. If a person visits a church, they can be more likely to expect real born-again believers indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God.

There is nothing sadder in the world than Christian religious nominalism — being Christian in name only, and not in actuality. The nominally religious are spiritually dead reprobates with a false assurance that is leading them to hell.

Nominal church cultures breed fake Christians with false professions of faith. There’s probably nothing more harmful to a true believer than seeking holiness in a large, spiritually dead church full of nominal Christians.

I have a friend who lives in Houston, Texas, in the so-called Bible-belt. He finds it so frustrating to try and be truly holy and encouraged in a context where everyone just goes to church because that’s just what people do.

So maybe the secularisation of society has just drawn the battle-lines clearer. The church has always flourished the most under opposition. It’s only when she has become comfortable that she has become fat, lazy and unfruitful.

We can even see this in the history of Israel, in the Bible. Whenever Israel rested secure, she sinned, and drove the LORD away. But God was with his true believers like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah in the midst of nation-wide backsliddenness.

Perhaps, then, an increase in religious disaffiliation within Christianity will wake us believers up to run the race with perseverance, prepare, and do the good Gospel work God has called us to do. Perhaps God will have compassion, and once again work this evil out for the good of his people.


Thanks for His Gifts

Today was my birthday! My 22nd. I had a ripper brekky with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in yonks; I made speedy progress on my thesis work; I went out to dinner with a great bunch of mates and finished the night with bowling. It was terrific.

I feel that I am so blessed to know and be able to love the LORD. When I think about it, the Lord took me out of darkness and placed me into the Kingdom of his beloved Son, whom He loves. He gave me the gift of eternal salvation when I simply turned to him in faith and rescued my soul for his honour and glory. Bless his wonderful name!

I also feel blessed to be able to share in fellowship with believers. Two particular friends stand out at this time. I’ll call them J and N. These two are the best mates. J and N are each so different to me in so many ways. And yet we are held together by a such unity of brotherhood in the Spirit and in love work together for mutual encouragement in the gospel.

I think it’s fantastic how God can do that. He takes us all from different worlds and walks in life and unites us as one in spirit, heart and purpose.

God has given us not only salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ as a gift, he has also given us the gift of our friends and family in the faith.

Two scriptures some to mind:

 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!”
(Psalm 133:1.)

“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:12.)

I bless the Lord for the gifts He has given us in His Son: (1) He has given us of Himself, and (2) He has given us each other, united as one, in His holy family.

Bless the Lord!

Kierkegaard’s False Inference: Abraham’s Faith

I recently read a very interesting essay on the effects of the philosophy of Existentialism on modern Christianity. Two particular points of interest which captured my attention was (a.) the Existentialist’s acceptance of the absurd or self-contradiction and the irrational[1], and (b.) Kierkegaard’s application of the absurd as most characteristic of faith as  illustrated in the life of Abraham.[2]

Assuming this is an accurate characterisation of Kierkegaard’s view, I find it marvellous how blatantly contradictory it is to the Scripture’s own description of Abraham’s faith.

Here’s what the scripture says in Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV):

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said,“Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

In the NIV and other translations, the word rendered “considered” in verse 19 is also rendered reasoned. According to one free online source, this comes from the Greek word logizomai potentially meaning “to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over, to reckon inward, count up or weigh the reasons, to deliberate; [or,] by reckoning up all the reasons, to gather or infer.”

Abraham’s faith was most certainly not an irrational one. It was not a leap in the dark. It was not an acceptance of the absurd.

Abraham, on the basis of what he knew to be true about God — His Promise, and His trustworthiness — went to make the sacrifice, and the Covenant was sealed by an act of extreme faith. Abraham acted on extreme love for and trust in God his Father. Like his wife, Sarah, Abraham “considered Him faithful who had promised” that, through Abraham, Abraham’s children, his nation and his family, would come, ultimately bringing blessing and salvation for all the nations of the earth through the arrival the ‘Messiah’ or ‘Seed’.

So I simply do not understand how Kierkegaard came to such a bogus conclusion about the nature of faith. It quite literally flies in the face of the biblical text. Faith isn’t a blind leap into the absurd. Faith is trusting someone for reasons, given what yo know to be true about them. Abraham knew God was wholly trustworthy because he walked with Him and knew Him. Therefore, he was willing to do whatever He asked of him.

According to Romans 4:12, we Christians are those who “also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham”–or, to put it another way, we walk as children of faith in the same manner as Abraham did: “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham… So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” (Galatians 3:6, 9.)

So I reject Kierkegaard’s definition of faith. It is a false inference based on a faulty understanding about Abraham’s faith.

Quotations from essay:
[1] “He [the Existentialist] seeks after the absurd and embraces it, taking comfort in his experience though it contradicts what he knows to be logical.”
[2] “Abraham, against reasoning and ethics – agreed to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Kierkegaard argued that this was the ultimate display of irrational faith.” [Note 19: Schaeffer, Francis, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, ed. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), p.15.]

Throwing the Baby out with the Baptismal Bathwater: Cessationism (Part 1)

I believe that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit as taught about in 1 Corinthians 12 operate in and among the Christian people today, both for the purposes of evangelism and to edify the body. I believe there is no sufficiently explicit biblical precedent to reject this premise. Additionally, I believe godly individual and groups of people experience these gifts today, all to the glory of God. I am therefore a Continuationist, or, a Charismatic.

However, some people like John Macarthur actually teach that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased since the Apostles died. They no longer operate today. One main argument in favor of this notion is not scriptural but experiential: it just seems that in the case of these alleged gifts in church bodies, what is termed “the Spirit of God” is often an excuse for a disorderly madness. Yet one of the major signs of the Spirit of God is a spirit of order in the church (2 Timothy 1:7).

There is legitimacy to this argument to an extent. There just does seem to be many abuses. But as Michael Brown has pointed out, Charismatic leaders have historically been the first and foremost to point out such abuses, and address them in their own congregations.

Could Macarthur and people like him — the Cessationists — be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Take another issue Macarthur argues against: Paedobaptism. Let’s grant for sake of argument that Paedobaptism is a useless church ritual that is ultimately harmful to faith and the body of Christ. (This is not my present opinion). Do we therefore throw out baptism altogether? Of course not. We become — as Macarthur is — Credobaptists. We institute an ordinance of baptism that is in keeping with the revelation of inspired scripture.

Take, then, the charismatic gifts. If we see the (alleged) gifts being used in such a way that is not in keeping with the institution and instruction of inspired scripture, do we therefore throw out gifts altogether? Not at all! Rather, we become godly, Bible-believing Charismatics who use the gifts in the right way — for evangelism and edification of the body, all in a godly order, and with care.

It seems to me that Macarthur and others who follow his Cessationist doctrine have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. But if they’re wrong, they’re depriving the Christian people of a powerful spiritual tool to use against Satan and for the Kingdom of Light.

All good things can be perverted and used for evil. But the right response is reform our thinking concerning that thing, and bring it back to the Bible, not getting rid of that thing altogether.

Next time, we shall talk about why so many Christians don’t experience the operation of the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit.