Most of my life has been lived within the realm of evangelical Christianity - The Jesus Generation of the 70's, The Charismatic "renewal" of the 80's, attending a Reformed then Evangelical churches in the early 90's, until I finally reached home through Reformational (not "reformed = Calvinistic") truth over the last twenty years. What made all of this possible was the fact that in my late childhood, I understood that God was certainly there, and by "hearing" about Him (particularly in the marvelous works of C S Lewis), recognizing that He was most certainly there for us.
I mention this because making this journey was far from easy. Most of the manifestations of church I journeyed through here in the UK were principally about what I needed to do, and as a result, it repeatedly become obvious that I wasn't cutting it - I could talk the talk, but behind that routine was the real me - the me that still sinned, still failed, still had plenty of fears and doubts and wasn't anywhere near making the "spiritual" grade so often being set up in countless sermons, ministry times and studies.
It all came to a head in the early 90's. Church history had taught me enough to know there was a better way, but where was that being talked about, offered to the modern church?
The weary state of affairs changed when I discovered an American radio broadcast - The White Horse Inn - which sought to place the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15) front and centre and apply this to the present church. Within months, the dislocated parts of my spiritual life came back into place and as I started to read afresh the works of Luther in particular, I began to understand who I truly was as a Christian and what church was really meant to be all about.
The Good News of the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) had furnished a way in the wilderness.
Notice I said that this is still a wilderness journey, and its often filled with groaning and weeping of soul, because whilst discovering the riches of God's grace is liberating, it also allows you to see and feel the poverty of the world around you, and puts what often passes as "christianity" into sharp relief.
Amidst the celebrations of Luther's titanic work these past few months, I have often found found myself keenly aware of the emptiness of other beliefs (road to no where ideology that amounts to 'have a good time now - it's all you've got') and the total folly of church which thinks the Gospel is something we 'trip' over to start with, and then get on with the "deeper" stuff of being spiritual. It all amounts to "let's make our own gods", because as exiles from the garden, that's what we believe we're good at.
There was a very telling quote made recently:
“During his time at Union Seminary, Dietrich Bonehoeffer famously remarked that American Protestantism has never gone through the Reformation, so, the dominant theme in American Christianity is pietism. This continues to be the case – both evangelicalism in general and Protestantism in particular perform the Gospel, preach law in ways that manifest either as moralism on the one hand or legalism on the other, neither of which bring Christ into focus or close the abyss between God and us.
What most hear week after week is some flavor or variety of this – it’s time to become a better you or to invest in a better world. We’re entirely engaged in exhausting people on the treadmill of the law, with expectations that, by the very nature of their content and intent, grate against the good news of the Gospel that they are justified by grace entirely and only, ever, reckoned righteous in Christ alone, forever”.
There really is only one thing necessary to continue to 'pass through' the desert valley and see these arid places refreshed and transformed into a place of delight. It isn't all the tug and tussle of our pietistic spirituality, or our grand notions of being wise in our own estimation - it's Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification - it all begins and ends there.
Church and life are about orbiting this star of righteousness, this sole splendor of our world - if we break away from here, we become abandoned in the void of the abyss of burning up and fading away.
Let's look away from anything and everything that distracts from what God has given to our broken world.