Part 1 Overcoming Earthly Resistance
In human terms praying is easy. It really is nothing more to the unregenerate mind than making wishes into the darkness and hoping that they fall on some unknowable deity’s likely deaf ears. Usually for things that we want that are of a purely material nature. This is the prayer life of a pagan….. or a church goer who is a moralistic therapeutic deist. If you’ve never heard that term then I suggest you read the book, “Almost Christian” which is a compilation of social studies done among church attending teenagers which found that those surveyed believed that they were suppose to be good, that life was suppose to get better, and that God was essentially there, but unknowable. Rod Drehr in his now famous book, “The Benedict Option” believes that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (here after MTD) is a virus colonizing the Christian Church in the West. I agree with his assessment.
My antidote to MTD however is different than that prescribed by most pastors. I do hit moralism hard from the pulpit. I hope that my recent sermon series on The New Covenant and the Law of God has been helpful in that area. I also go out of my way to make sure people understand that life is not going to get better but instead you will grow old, get sick, and die while being betrayed and betraying others all along the way. Life most certainly will not be full of therapeutic improvement. We should not hope for heaven on earth for it is a fools errand that will end in utter disappointment. But these two areas are not my main focus. If you’ve been with me for a short time or a even just a little while then you will know that I hammer on the anvil of communion a lot. When I say communion I do not mean the sacrament of the Lord’s Table, nor your place in the mystical universal body of Christ. When I say communion I mean getting to know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by spending time with Him in His Presence.
Why do I spend so much time encouraging people to commune with the Lord you ask? Mostly, because I do not believe that a proper intellectual understanding of grace (against moralism) and the clearly deteriorating course of this world (against therapeutism) is enough to counter the Deism in MTD. Our key weapon will not be found in the classroom. We are the most theologically sophisticated church to ever exist. We have more knowledge at our finger tips than any other generation in history. We are the inheritors of the most thorough doctrinal statements to have been written to date. Yet, none of those things stopped the tide of declension. While I do believe that returning to a doctrinally pure historic Christian Faith is important and so I hammer on that anvil a lot too, I do not believe that intellectual learning alone will bring about a significant movement to return the spiritual heritage that our children have had stolen from them. In fact, intellectual learning can be a little bit of the problem. Let me explain.
The modern world is scientific. We all learned the scientific method in school. We have all been taught that there really is no unexplainable mystery in the world. It’s all machinery and mechanism. It all unwinds like a clock. Trees use sunlight to make photosynthesis. Clouds form around nuclei. The wind is an atmospheric event. There is no mystery. We inadvertently have brought this worldview over into the Christian Faith. We study the Bible using hermeneutics, the scientific study of sacred text according to rules (which is good and indispensable btw). We have a clear understanding, if we are protestants (which I am), how man is justified before God and saved from His wrath. We have a pretty clear consensus (if we are not charismatics) why miracles have generally ceased and what gifts of the Spirit are still functioning. On the reformed end of the Protestant Spectrum we are loathe to be associated with Charismaticsim on the one hand and Catholic Mysticism on the other so we shy away from anything that seems subjective at all. Yet, what is Christianity without personal subjective experience? I suggest to you that it is nothing but another form Deism. A theologically correct version of Deism which uses all the right words and phrases but leaves no place for entering, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, “into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. There is a place for subjective experience of the Divine in the already while we await the not yet. It is in the experience of the Divine that humans, who are created in the image of God, are changed. It is in the experience of the Divine that Christians must return to faith in again. We are not scientists and so we must stop being scientists. Learn theology. Give yourself to heremnuetics. Know how to define your terms. But if your theology, hermeneutics, and well defined terms do not lead you into the Presence of the Divine and joyful worship of Him in the Spirit (an invisible mystery that you experience) then they are millstones around your neck and you my friend have missed the point of the Gospel which was to bring you into the Throne Room of God. Go an learn what this means,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6-8
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Eph 4:8
Do you believe in the power of the crucifixion and resurrection to justify and save you? Then why do you not believe in the power of the ascension to bring you into the Presence of God and change you from the earthly glory of your first birth after the image of Adam to the heavenly glory of your new birth after the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18
16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Before we can push passed the spiritual resistance to communion, we must first push passed the earthly resistance. Do you believe that you can know and enjoy God in this world or not? I carefully phrased that last bit just for us reformed folks. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 asks,
“Question: What is the chief end of Man?
Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
The reformers did believe you could enjoy God, and not just with your mind. Why did Paul count everything as rubbish? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8) He said “KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD!”, not knowing about Him. The difference between the two is more vast than the universe. If you want to commune with God the first step is to abandon the scientific pursuit of knowledge about God as you primary means of knowing Him. I didn’t say completely abandon it. I said abandon it as “the primary means”. Begin to make time to spend in the Presence of God. Let the knowledge you have about God from the Scriptures guide your time and thoughts when you go to be with Him. You cannot commune with God without the Word, but God is more than ink on a page. God is a Person (the Person from which all being comes) to be known and experienced. Man was created in His image and so there is something about mankind that is different than the rest of creation. He could walk with God, “Who is a Spirit and does not have a body like men” as the children’s catechism tells us. Adam communed with God in the Garden. Communion is what He lost and communion is what Christ restored in the ascension. When Christ was seated at the right hand and exalted, the Father sent the Spirit into our hearts to adopt us (Romans 8:15), regenerate us and wash us (Titus 3:5), but also to bring us into communion with Him.
20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
In order to overcome the earthly resistance to communion with God, one must first repent of the (un)belief that you cannot subjectively experience God. The Word gives rules so that you can discern the spirits (1 John 4:1), use them. But don’t abandon communion with God by the Holy Spirit for fear of Charismatic or Catholic nonsense. Put your theology to good use. Let it guide you into genuine Christian experience. Go to Him and leave your (Reformed) Deism behind you.
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)