“Be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves.” James 1:22 (WEB)
The danger of the current North American church is not just heresy. I am not blind to the error, imbalance or ignorance sprinkled throughout our Church beliefs. Each needs biblical correction and personal repentance. Yet there is a concurrent danger. An equal threat is not wrong doctrine, but dead doctrine. By dead doctrine, I mean those beliefs which we speak, sing, quote and applaud but never practice. They may form our convictions, but not our experience. Listen to P.T. Forsyth:
We are called at the present day to reconstruction of the old theology, a restatement of the old gospel. We have to re-appropriate and re-mint the truth of our experienced Christianity. But what a hardship it is that this call should search us at a time when the experimental power of Christianity has abated, and the evangelical experience is so low and so confused as it often is.*
His call to the historic truth of Christianity is overshadowed by the shallow Christian experience of those who hold those truths. He wrote that in 1916. Has the situation improved since then?
The question is big, so let me narrow our focus. Consider faith – the affirmation, ability and action of trusting God with our lives. It is our faith which pleases God. Since faith is the entrance and means of our Christian living, God is always out to expand our faith. How is our faith nurtured? Our knee jerk answer is to educate faith. We throw Bible verses at it. We study biblical examples like Moses, Esther and Peter. We craft watertight argument and apologetic to convince faith to grow. You’ve tried that, or at least had it done to you in Church. Has it worked? We sit among congregations able to define and describe the dynamic of faith and perhaps long for deeper trust, but feel puny and powerless in this critical area of growth. We have the affirmations of faith but struggle to put it into action. It’s our doctrine, but not our experience.
Faith is like a muscle. It grows by being exercised. Nutritional charts will not strengthen my core, sit ups will. It you want your faith to grow – use it. Obey the voice of God even if it makes no sense to you. Step into the unknown because God invites you there. Don’t allow safety, comfort or common sense to be your loudest voice. I know you just raised your eyebrow. You want to correct the previous statement. But Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us that following God in faith does not fit into the normal boxes of life. Obedient faith will not always make sense to us, and there may be every reasoned argument against it – except this: faith without works is dead. Knowing without doing is lifeless. Spiritual growth is less like a classroom and more like a gymnasium. There is a type of Christian who knows God can be trusted because the Bible says so (true enough!). There is another type of Christian who knows God is trustworthy because they have trusted Him – and God has never failed. Which do you want to be?
The gap between our doctrine and our experience is a vulnerability that needs to be addressed. We tend to highlight the extremes of the spectrum between theology and practicality. But the Bible doesn’t place us in an “either or” position. We do not choose between truth and application. Spiritual growth progresses on both rails. What we require is an understanding on how to hold both priorities together. What we need is a bridge to span the gap.
In the months to come, this space will morph from Blogs to a “Bridge.” The Bridge will offer “how to” guidance on central matters of life and faith. You are invited to continue visiting the Back to the Bible Canada blog page. You will find articles intended to help us all not simply know the truth, but to experience it as well.
* Soul of Prayer – P.T. Forsyth – 1916