For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Pendulum

There is a pendulum that swings in the history of the church. When I was younger, I did not appreciate its existence, but the longer I live the greater its reality appears. The swings of this pendulum are not bad, but are the effects of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding the church in the path of righteousness.

Social Concerns

What is the purpose of the church and its ministry? Certainly Jesus died and rose for the salvation of sinners, but he also told us to care for the poor and marginalised. There was a swing of the pendulum toward social concerns. "The starving need to be fed before they will listen to the gospel" makes sense and the pendulum begins to swing in that direction. But soon it swings too far and the message of sinners needing to be saved from an eternal hell gets lost. Caring for the less fortunate becomes the sole role of the church. 
Soon another voice is heard: It ultimately does no good to give food to the hungry if they never hear the gospel. We are called to evangelism! Eternal destinies do matter more than worldly comfort, so the pendulum swings in the other direction. Over time, the church neglects caring for the poor in favour of "saving souls". And the church neglects the needy.
Then a prophetic voice is heard calling the church to express the love of Christ to the most-needy in society and the pendulum begins its swing back to the centre. Only over time it goes too far...


Traditional or contemporary? Hymns or choruses?

I grew up singing hymns. The same hymns from the same hymnal week after week. They were good, but boring. They didn't express my heart. The words flew by at a rate that left little time for thought. At retreats or camps we sang a different type of song. They were simpler and had more repetition. They were easy to sing and allowed time for reflection and for the Spirit to stir our hearts. Eventually, they were allowed into the church, primarily through the more charismatic churches. Worship times became alive and filled with personal expressions of praise and adoration.

But the songs had little depth and sometimes the theology wasn't very good. Besides, it seemed like often the purpose became creating a certain mood or feeling rather than worship. Three upbeat "praise" songs, followed by a moderate song which flowed into a slow "worship" song became the standard format. It seemed to become about mood rather than God. It was about creating an emotion rather than an encounter.

But the pendulum is swinging the other way. Today the old hymns are being dusted off and set to contemporary arrangements. Ministries like Sovereign Grace, Austin Stone and Indelible Grace have grown popular as a new generation discovers the solid faith of generations past. Like the Puritans of old this movement is "singing their theology" and it shows in the conversations in coffee shops in cities around the world. Its a move of the Spirit of God. 

In another twenty years the pendulum will swing in the other direction, back to a more contemporaneous expression of faith.

Calvinism, Arminianism, and Revival

On this subject I will raise some eyebrows, but I think it can be observed that in the revival movements of the church there is a definite swinging pendulum between Calvinism and Arminianism. This pendulum ignores the fact that a carefully worded Calvinism and a carefully worded Arminianism are extremely close to one another. Calvinism stresses the sovereignty of God in salvation. Its champions include people like Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and John Piper. Arminianism stresses human responsibility in salvation. Its champions include people like John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, and Billy Graham.

It makes sense that Calvinistic preaching ushers in revival because of its emphasis on the glory of God, the fallenness of man and man's inability to save himself, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. These are powerful Scriptural truths that have brought millions to faith in Christ. 

But the pendulum can swing too far. The person sitting under Calvinistic preaching can think that because salvation is entirely the work of God they need not concern themselves with it. This can happen in several ways. Some will reason that "If God is going to save me, he will do it himself. Until he does, I might as well live like the devil." Others will rationalise that they prayed a "salvation prayer" and now are "eternally secure" so they live in flagrant sin believing that they are going to heaven.

Eventually another voice is heard, pushing the pendulum back in the other direction. Revival ensues. This voice, the voice of Arminianism, cries out, "Repent!" It places the emphasis on the responsibility of man before God. It demands that sinners make a decision and insists that the outcome of their salvation hinges on their decision to repent and believe the gospel. It calls believers to pursue holiness in lifestyle and reminds them of the terrors of falling away from Christ. 

But soon this emphasis on human responsibility pushes the pendulum too far and the message becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. And a voice is heard calling the church back to the centrality of the glory and sovereignty of God. And so through the course of history the pendulum swings.

Bible Led or Spirit Led

We can see the pendulum operating here as well. There are some who emphasise knowledge of the Bible and correct doctrine. And certainly one cannot be against solid biblical doctrine. At the same time, there can be a creeping scholasticism about theology and biblical knowledge that is deadly. The Bible points to an living and vibrant relationship with God that is known in personal experience. God is a person who can know and be known. It is into this relationship that we are called by the biblical text. Scholasticism without this relationship is lifeless, like an abandoned castle. Strong, but cold and and sterile.

But then the wind of the Holy Spirit begins to blow, usually through the voice of "plain and uneducated preachers" who have "been with Jesus". Through their preaching the Holy Spirit reveals and makes Christ known in personal experience. It paints the faith in vibrant colours and calls us to experiential knowledge of the Triune God. The spiritual eyes of the believer see Christ. The spiritual ears hear his voice. Hearts are "strangely warmed" as on the Emmaus Road. But this too easily leads to an emotional and experience-based Christianity. Over time sound biblical teaching is forsaken in the pursuit of what gives pleasant feelings. Worship is replaced by entertainment and personalities rather than the Word moving audiences emotionally. The pendulum swings too far.

Some Lessons

There are several lessons that can be learned from the swinging of the pendulum.

If you examine each of these areas, you will discover that it they are not either/or propositions. We love and care for the poor while at the same time recognising that without Christ all will perish. We are in need of music both new and old. We are chosen by God and yet in real-time we choose Him. We are to be both Bible-led and Spirit-led. It is our inability as individuals and churches to hold onto both ends with equal strength that causes the pendulum to swing.

This should teach us that we need each other. We need to listen and learn from one another. We need to come alongside of other people who have a different view on these topics. The Arminian needs the Calvinist to help him focus on the sovereignty of God. The Calvinist need the Arminian to remind him that we do make real decisions with real consequences in this life. The contemporary songwriter needs the depth of the classic hymns. Those concerned for the poor need the evangelist. The hymn-singer needs the contemporary songwriter. And on it goes.

So this week as you meet a fellow believer who sees the world a little differently, take time to listen to how God has intersected with their life. Share with them what God is doing in yours. Then take some time to pray together that you might both follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

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