There is an old saying/question-type-vibe in the Christian world – and my version of it (today) goes thus:
“If legislation was passed within two minutes from the end of this question that I am now asking that made Christianity illegal, and withing three minutes of that law being passed the secret police were letting themselves into your living quarters to investigate you – would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Now, I am perfectly aware that this question is not analogically perfect. Some of us have so much ‘Christian stuff’ that five minutes would not be enough to clear it before the “Gestapo” arrived. Others of us may be poor and not have much at all in the way of possessions – maybe only one Bible. And since when was a houseful of devotional books and commentaries a guaranteed sign of true Biblical Christianity? Or ‘holy’ objects?
To enter into semantic arguments about the universal applicability of this question is to miss the point of it completely. I will return to this question later in this post. However, please bear in mind that I am not engaged in academia in this moment; I am engaged in homiletics. I was doing my devotional earlier this morning, and I have come to share some of what came to me with you.
Now, there are many who do not like Ellen White – and that’s inside Adventism as well as outside. No problem – in that your position is your own prerogative. Skip to the next paragraph right now. But those interested, try this for size:
“Those who have not moral power cannot stand in defense of the truth…” (MYP 88).
Now, A.W. Tozer’s ministry output has been featured prominently here at the theomusicology blog. And when I read the sentence above this morning, I was reminded of something that I read in an absolutely incredible book called God’s pursuit of Man. At one point, Tozer quotes John Smith, saying that the “old divine [Smith] held that a pure life was absolutely necessary [my emphasis] to any real understanding of spiritual truth:
‘Divinity is not so much perceived by a subtle wit as by a purified sense.'”
Tozer continues by invoking Athanasius (google him), who closed a monumental treatise entitled The Incarnation of the Word of God in which he boldly attacks the difficult problems inherent in the doctrine of the incarnation. Tozer goes on to say:
“Yet so little does he [Athanasius] trust the human mind to comprehend divine mysteries that he closed his great work with a strong warning against a mere intellectual understanding of spiritual truth. His words should be printed in large type and tacked on the desk of every pastor and theological student [suddenly, I’m both of those] in the world:
‘But for the searching of of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, insofar as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mined and a modelling of life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints… He that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul.'”
Look at what Athanasius is saying! “Honourable life” – “pure soul” – “Christ-like virtue” – that is the standard for those who would work in the ministry of the Word.
Oh, but wait…was not the Protestant Reformation founded upon (amongst many other things) the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers?’ [There is a biblical and theological relationship between Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9 that needs its own post, but please go take a look at those texts if you don’t know them!]
Here’s where I’m going – the standard spoken of by all those whom I have quoted applies to us all. There is an incredible text in 1 Peter 1:
22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,
23being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever;
So let’s now go back to Ellen White, who in relation to dealing with and relating to unbelievers, counsels:
“If you argue with them, they will have arguments with which to meet you, and nothing you may say will touch them; but if you live for Christ, if you are firm in your allegiance to the God of heaven, you may do for them that which argument will fail to do, and convince them of the fallacy of their doctrines by the power of godliness” (MYP 88).
Now – let’s be clear. Tozer is not saying that basic theology cannot be literally comprehended cerebrally by an ungodly person. James 2:19 smashes that. But knowledge about and knowledge of are not the same thing! Ellen White may seem to say in this moment that there is no point in having any ability to reason through questions of faith with a skeptic. But other statements she makes elsewhere shows that she cares about people being able to articulate Christian faith properly. So what IS she saying?
However fine your arguments, it is not the actual argument ITSELF that will bring about conviction. It is the work of the Spirit in the life of the one making the argument! A clever and convincing argument for Christian faith given by an ungodly person has less impact than the same argument given by one who has abandoned walking in the flesh for the higher walk of that in the Spirit (Romans 8:1).
So, the question – if you are a Christian who is called upon to defend the faith – would your defense stand up in court?
If you offered the fruit of your own life as a Christian as proof of the seriousness and validity of the gospel message, would that stand up in court? You might have more Bibles, commentaries, sermon DVDs, evangelistic leaflets and whatever else than some small churches. Your calendar may be filled with Christian activities. Your emails may be peppered with Scriptural references. But are people actually growing in their faith because of your influence? Are people coming to faith because of your influence?
Do you say one thing and do one thing in public, and another in private? If so, you are hurting your ministry. And if you hurt your ministry, you not only hurt those whom you might helped – you hurt yourself – because God will ask you account for the influence He allowed you to have with your fellow human beings!
I speak to myself even more than I speak to anyone else. I have been on this journey for some time, but like so many biblically-conservative Christians, I have frequently prioritised the intellectual over the life-changing. I look at the ways in which my ever-increasing grasp of truth has not always been accompanied by deeper spirituality. And so, today, I charge myself – and each and every person who reads this post who claims to be a believer – to strive in Jesus’ Name for a far higher standard of personal morality than ever before.
These are serious words. I’m actually scared to write them and publish them. I cannot measure up. I need God’s help more than ever before. The closer we get to God, the more we see how far away we are. But I REFUSE to go another step on the journey towards greater theological and philosophical and biblical knowledge without taking my personal practical life as a Christian up some gears. I do not want to be seen as a clever dude and great musician with a lovely ‘passion’ for his faith. I want to be a conduit used by God to see lives change for good.
So, if I had to answer my own question, I would like to be condemned by those who are hauled into court just after I am brought in – charged with following the teachings of Jesus as a result of my influence.
And as for what follows – that is God’s call, and like the three brethren in Daniel 3 – I pray that our defense of the faith will be the fruit of our lives. Yes, we may do like Peter and deny Christ at times of weakness and confusion – but even he was restored and in the end, he gave his life for the Truth.
We don’t have to be martyrs to do the same.
Peter had already surrendered his life, so when they took it, they did not take what belonged to him – they took what belonged to God!!!!!!!
One day, Michael Himself will stand up and demand an account. Please, I beg you, make sure you are on the right side of judgement when that day comes.