If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference. So said AW Tozer. We might quibble over the numbers, but the point is well made.
I dont know about you but I find his comment challenging. Tozers point is this: the temptation for the Church in any age is the temptation to worldliness; to rely on our own effort and to relegate God to the substitutes bench. This is a claim that is worthy of scrutiny in the Church today.
I believe that if you were to ask most Christians whether secularism should define the Church or whether the Church should seek to engage secularism, most Christians would choose the latter.
I have often said that one of the big problems for the Church is that we fear being different. The slightly uninspiring outcome is that many 21st century Christians look and behave pretty much like everyone else. In terms of aspiration, lifestyle and the deployment of real faith in God, we are too indistinct. The determined effort of the secularists to obliterate all distinction has had its impact upon the Church.
Of course, the diagnosis of the Church's ills is oft pronounced. Its discipleship we need more of it! For the 40 plus years I have been a Christian its been identified as such and yet, despite being in full possession of the diagnosis, the change is minimal. Books, courses, teaching DVDs - they all fail to make the difference that those who write such things imagine they might.
Why is this? Well, the truth is that I have little idea, and I hesitate to offer any observations, but heres the way my mind has been working.
If we dont understand the price that God paid for our redemption, we will struggle to see discipleship in any terms of personal cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his memorable book, The Cost of Discipleship in the 1940s. Its still worth a read today. Christian ethics in the final analysis are the ethics of response: response to what God in Christ has done for us in the events of Calvary almost 2,000 years ago. Unless we get this, we shall never achieve distinctiveness.
Its interesting how many Christians today and in the past have lost their lives for the sake of their faith. The problem in the Western Church is that such costly discipleship is all out there somewhere; the stuff of books about heroic Christian martyrs. It all seems a long way away from much of the easy believism of the 21st century Western Church. I think we need to wake up.
Sometimes, when I hear people talk about discipleship, it seems a bit packaged. As if it was something you could capture and put into a bottle and then sell to others. I suspect this is a long way away from what is in the minds of those who seek to bottle discipleship in courses and books, but these things can only really be, at best, part of the answer. The danger is that we tick the box of a course completed and move on. Discipleship is for life, not just for
There is something around the idea, exemplified in the way that Jesus ministered, that is to do with teachers who are alongside their pupils and who model the discipleship they teach. It works like this. Jesus taught his disciples and then sent them out to put into practice what they had been taught. He then called them back in for a feedback report. Spending time with a fellow disciple who models what they teach is important. Can our lifestyles and the set-up of many churches actually deliver this? That is a very searching question, I believe, for the Church today.
I think discipleship works like this. What you sow, you will reap. If nothing gets intentionally planted you will only get weeds (ie faux growth that strangles and doesnt liberate).
Whilst we model this low octane commitment to growth in our discipleship, we shall struggle to have any impact in the face of the tide of secular thinking that threatens to swamp our churches.
Its time to wake up.