Monday, October 22, 2012

Assault on Intellect

I find the assault on intellect in Pentecostal circles to be quite alarming.

The Apostle Paul, who was committed to the cause of Christ to the point of being in chains, writes to the Church at Philippi: "This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ -- to the glory and praise of God"(Php. 1:9-11). In these three verses Paul teaches that love is tied to 'knowledge and depth of insight'. Notice that he doesn't say that it is tied to 'divine revelation'. Love is not something to be caught on the winds of the Spirit, but something to be cultivated in the fields of His Word with the Holy Spirit directing our labors. The deeper we dig into the soil the more we reveal and the more that we reveal of Him the greater our reason and our ability to share His love. While we obviously need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to open up the ears of our hearers we will have nothing to pour into them if we ignore the Biblical mandate to be students of His Word.

The Lord does not call us to be students of movements, traditions, systems, culture or histories. He calls us to be students of His Word. The knowledge that we need to discern those movements, traditions, systems, cultures, and histories, and determine how best to sow into them, is to love them enough to spend time plowing the depths of His Word, not the depths of the fallen culture. Yes, God has called us to love on people, but He calls us to love on them according to His Word. If we only love the world around us in ways that the world understands love then we have fallen into the trap of being like the world rather than in it, but not of it. As a result we will continue to see the world altering the Church rather than the Church altering the world. We run the risk of raising up ministers of God's Word that have their hand on the pulse of culture but are so caught up in listening to its beat that they no longer hear the heartbeat of God. They will have greater knowledge of who played what role in the latest hit movie than they will of who's who in God's Word.

We should take note that Jesus is "The Word made flesh and dwelling among us."  We need to ask ourselves if we embody His Word or if we are an embodiment of the culture around us. Jesus said, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt. 12:34). We need to make it our priority to fill our hearts with His Word.  After all, the Bible says that "faith comes by hearing the Word of God" and "how can they hear without a preacher?"  The saying attributed to St. Francis "preach the gospel and when necessary use words" is ridiculous! It is necessary to use words! "Faith comes by hearing the Word!" After saying that our mouth reveals our heart Jesus went on to say, "I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mt. 12:36-37).

We have fallen into the trap of overestimating our persuasive ability to change peoples hearts through our own good works and actions and have underestimated the power of God's spoken word to change lives. Perhaps we have done so because we have little knowledge of that Word and tremendous knowledge of what people want from us.

The Apostle Paul's overwhelming concern for young Timothy was that he be on his guard against the false teaching that was everywhere in the Church. He tells Timothy, "command certain men not to teach false doctrines . . . nor  to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies" (1 Tim. 1:3-4). He goes on to tell Timothy, "some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm" (1 Tim. 1:6-7). Paul is clearly telling Timothy that the role of the preacher is to know what he is talking about. If he is not a student of God's Word then his talk will quickly become  meaningless and will boil down to empty illustrations. He goes on to tell Timothy, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim. 4:1).

Does Paul offer a solution to this dilemma? Certainly! He tells Timothy, "Command and teach these things . . . Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching . . . Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim. 4:11-15). He also admonishes him by saying, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

There is nothing to be feared from the study of God's Word. Jesus did not rebuke the Pharisees for their knowledge of His Word, but for their lack of action upon it. He rebuked them when their knowledge and adherence to culture and tradition blinded them to His Word. I fear that the term "Pharisee" has come to be symbolic with those in the Church that are not culturally "hip" when the true "Pharisees" among us are those that use the culture to their advantage because strict adherence to His Word would cause them to fall from their thrones. They open with a joke, preach an illustration, and devote themselves to the myth that "loving people" has nothing to do with loving God's Word.

I agree with the Apostle Paul and pray the same prayer for you: "May your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness, that comes through Jesus Christ (the Living Word) -- to the glory and praise of God."