Monday, October 26, 2009

Deadening and Enlivening Spirituality

A couple of weeks ago, I got in my rental car at the airport and turned the radio on. Recognizing the voice of the Rev. Charles Stanley, who is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, I reached to change the station. However, I changed my mind and decided to listen for a while. He was preaching from a passage in the Gospels in which Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to sift him as wheat.

It has been a long time since I have listened to anyone espousing the view of spirituality that Pastor Stanley affirms, and I was frankly surprised at how strongly I reacted against it.

Someone has properly said that all of Christian doctrine is grace, and all of Christian conduct is gratitude. That is to say that God has acted decisively on behalf of those who are His, and we respond with gratefulness. Unfortunately, the message I heard on the radio that night was quite different. According to the radio preacher, God has acted to give us opportunities. Accessing those opportunities will make us more effective and able to have an impact. Failure to access those opportunities will result in us failing to reach our potential.

This type of spirituality is ultimately stifling, as it views ourselves as being in charge of that which is actually the province of the Lord. While Mr. Stanley would reject the notion that he is legalistic because he teaches salvation by faith, his version of spirituality is ultimately a legalistic one of telling congregants to do more and try harder so that they can be what they are intended to be. Such law based spirituality frequently leads to either disillusionment and burn-out or to a suffocating self-righteousness.

I, myself, was raised in a legalism more stifling than that, and I am grateful to have escaped it. The Bible tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. It then tells us, by faith, to be reconciled to God. He has done the work. I believe, and then spend the remainder of this life learning to live gratefully.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:21 AM  

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