Dear CRI Partner:
In a book titled The Divine Commodity, author Skye Jethani paints a disturbing picture of an all-too-typical modern-day church:
Wherever I looked flat-panel displays crammed my field of vision with presenters flashing their high-definition smiles. And the stage was alive, a mechanical beast to behold. It was moving fluidly, breathing smoke, and shooting lasers through its digital chameleon skin. The band members were spread across the platform as jagged teeth in the beast’s mouth, and the drummer was precariously suspended from the ceiling like a pagan offering.
He then poses a question you and I might ask regarding Jesus’ mission:
Is this why he came, suffered, and died? Is this why he conquered death and evil, so that we might congregate for multimedia worship extravaganzas in his name?
No serious and sober Christian would need more than a second to answer that question. But the pervasive presence of these high-tech theatrics is merely symptomatic of a much deeper problem. One that lies at the very core of the decline of the Western church:
Ponder that for a moment…
Our Lord Himself commissioned His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19–20), and yet the relentless penetration of hedonism into our culture has caused large numbers of churches to focus on “feel good” productions! Really?
Well, in one of the great classics in modern Christian literature, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard writes,
Where have we gotten this idea about “doing what feels good”? The unrestrained hedonism of our own day comes historically from the 18th-century idealization of happiness and is filtered through the 19th-century ideology of pleasure as the good for people. Finally it emerges in the form of our present “feel good” society — tragically pandered to by the popular culture and much of popular religion as well.
Think about it. Isn’t the most generally applied standard of success for a religious service whether or not people feel good in it and after it? The preeminence of the “feel good” mentality in our world is what makes it impossible for many people now even to imagine what Paul and his contemporaries accepted as a fact of life.
Therein lies the rub. We’re not seeing the radical transformation inherent in the gospel because far too many Christians have embraced a pale and diluted imitation of the real thing.
If, by even modest estimates, more than a quarter of the entire US population has professed an evangelical conversion experience, we would do well to ponder a question posed by William Iverson:
A pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter
pound of salt. If this is real Christianity, the ‘salt of the
earth,’ where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?
The answer, of course, is hidden in plain view in his provocative question. Much of what we see in American churches today isn’t real Christianity.
While academics will endlessly debate myriad reasons for the impotence and decline of much of the church in the West, I’ll simply restate the reason noted earlier: undiscipled disciples. And why, you might ask, do we have undiscipled disciples?
Although a simplistic answer would rightly be suspect,
a “spot-on” answer would be that we have forgotten the disciplines!
In short, we simply cannot reasonably expect to see transformational disciples while chronically ignoring the very spiritual disciplines essential to personal and social transformation!
What are those disciplines?
Willard spends a good portion of The Spirit of the Disciplines explaining the need to balance the “disciplines of abstinence” with the “disciplines of engagement.” And while I’ll leave the explanation and elaboration of these to Willard, they are:
- Disciplines of Abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice.
- Disciplines of Engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.
Although there are no secret recipes for the radical personal and social transformation at the heart of the gospel, there are clearly proven disciplines, and without the practice of these disciplines on a broad scale, we simply have no reason to believe that we will witness the flourishing of the Kingdom of God on earth. As Willard puts it poignantly,
We know that we have some part in bringing the vision to realization. Although it is God’s power and presence that will bring health and peace to the earth, that does not mean that we are mere spectators. The power and presence will not fall upon us like a stone. There is a human instrumentality involved, which is why God waits for a fullness of time determined by our capacities to receive what he would give. He calls us to be a part of his efforts. Our part is to understand the way God works with humanity to extend his Kingdom in the affairs of humankind, and to act on the basis of that understanding.
The key to understanding our part is the realization that God only moves forward with his redemptive plan through people who are prepared to receive freely and cooperate with him in the next step.
Willard’s last line hints at the very mission of CRI: to help Christians be prepared by equipping them with the knowledge, insights, resources, and discernment not merely to stand for life and truth but to be effective agents of change by living out daily the disciplines at the very heart of true spirituality.
May God bless and empower you through these disciplines to continue being salt and light in a church and world in desperate need of genuine disciples!
Because Life and Truth matter…
Host, Bible Answer Man Broadcast
P.S. Willard notes that “the New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.” Because we don’t see true disciples without the practice of spiritual disciplines, The Spirit of the Disciplines is a “must read” for serious Christians.