Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

16. CAN WE HAVE A FORM OF GODLINESS, BUT DENY THE POWER THEREOF?

Alternate titles for this section might be, "OBJECTIVES WITHOUT PROCESS" or "FORM WITHOUT FUNCTION." A Chinese church leader once touched on this issue with the comment, "American Christians know how to organize but we know how to pray."

The point I will try to make is somewhat enigmatic so I will begin with an analogy to the optimization of Value Stream Flow, in a business enterprise, by a Lean Transformation. All types of business – i.e. manufacturing, service and medical – can be rejuvenated by a Lean Transformation. Enormous improvements are virtually guaranteed in all business metrics: lead time, inventory turns, productivity, defect rate, floor space, gross margins, working capital, service provider response time, accounts receivable days outstanding, inspection time, customer returns processing time and EBITDA to name a few. The ultimate objectives of a Lean Transformation may be summarized as:

  • Removal of Non-Value-Adding Activities from the Process Stream
  • Optimization of Value-Adding Activities

But these objectives don't include a process for achieving them. They give no clue as to how they might be achieved. What we need are process steps that will lead to fulfillment of the objectives. The primary process steps include:

  • Make Product Cycle Time = Customer Takt Time
  • Create Continuous Flow so that every piece of work in progress (WIP) moves smoothly from one step to the next.
  • Standardize Work so that all tasks are done in identical fashion by each employee responsible.
  • Establish a "Pull System" throughout the Value Stream from supplier to customer.

Now we have a road map which, if followed, will lead to accomplishment of the objectives. Notice the process looks nothing like the objectives; there is a vast difference between a set of objectives and the process required to achieve those objectives. Also, stating the objectives gives little insight into the nature of a viable process. But in the absence of such a process, the objectives will never be achieved.

What does this mean for the Church? It means having Biblical objectives without Biblical process is like ringing a church bell in the vacuum of outer space; no one will hear the ring. Furthermore, defining the objectives is the easy part, simply a matter of writing down a few sentences. Defining and executing the process is hard. Our first inclination is to grow impatient with God, forgo the Biblical process and seek to do his work by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit. We ape the world's wisdom, trust its forms of publicity and imitate its ways of manipulating men. We say, "Stand over here on the sidelines God and we will show You how it's done." The objectives of the "Purpose Driven Church" can serve as an example.

  • The Great Commandment (Mat 22:36-40 -- worship God and minister to your neighbor)
  • The Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20 – evangelize unbelievers, enlarge the fellowship and disciple believers)

As expected, there is nothing in these objectives that defines or even points to a process. Rather than search Scripture for process, we bypass God and use our human intelligence.

  • For worship, congregations passively listen to clever messages mixed in with musical entertainment, announcements and ritual prayer. The messages are carefully contrived to avoid causing anyone to think excessively or become uneasy; scary words like "SATAN" and "HELL" are generally avoided.
  • We minister to our neighbors by paying them short visits during which we guard against too much involvement; this assuages our conscience while avoiding unpleasant entanglements in core problems.
  • We sometimes evangelize by preaching and quoting Scripture to people we barely know. We become self appointed martyrs if our efforts are rebuffed; we tell God we were faithful even if we weren't fruitful.
  • We enlarge the fellowship by every sort of "Madison Avenue" huckstering within the limits of our imagination, of course telling God that whatever we do is for the "greater good."
  • Discipleship is accomplished in Sunday School by re-reading the same baby-food lessons for decade after decade but never teaching exactly what Christians believe and why.

What we have to show for our man made processes is the American church in death spiral. Once the statistics of decline can no longer be ignored, we search for remedial options such as:

  • Do what we have always done, only with twice the effort, and hope we don't get what we always got!
  • Introduce social positions, which mirror our culture, into the Church as God approved behavior (i.e. abortion for convenience, homosexuality, promiscuity without consequence, etc.).
  • Try processes identified in Scripture even when our human intellect views them as unlikely to succeed.

The first two have been tried and found wanting. What about number three? Here are a few of the processes identified in Scripture.

UNITED CORPORATE PRAYER

R. A. Torrey summarizes the place of prayer as a Biblical process: "Prayer is God's appointed way for obtaining things and the great secret of all lack in our experience, in our life and in our work is neglect of prayer…Those men whom God set forth as a pattern of what He expected Christians to be – the apostles – regarded prayer as the most important business of their lives…The words pray and prayer are used at least 25 times in connection with Jesus in the brief record of his life set forth in the four Gospels and His praying is also mentioned in places where the words are not used."

Church prayer has become a tired ritual which is performed with no real expectation even though Scripture teaches the unlimited power of united corporate prayer. Where there is real agreement, where the Holy Spirit brings believers into perfect harmony concerning that which they ask of God, where the Holy Spirit lays the same burden on all hearts, in such prayer there is great power. What if all the church ritual prayer, musical entertainment and baby food lessons were replaced by congregational united corporate prayer from men and women yearning to be led by the Holy Spirit down a path of confession, remorse, repentance, faith, obedience, humility, forgiveness, sincerity, purity, persistence, restoration, truth and worship? Could such prayer have an impact on Kingdom work?

RESTORATION

G. A. Boyd masterfully portrays the great war of the forces of God against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness: "Jesus' entire ministry, as we have seen, reflects the belief that the world had been seized by a hostile, sinister lord. Jesus had come to take it back. Contrary to any view suggesting that everything has a divine purpose behind it, Jesus' ministry indicated that God's purposes for the world had to be fought for and won. Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This presupposes that, to a significant extent at least, God's will is not now being done on earth."

The world, at every level, is at war. We are on the front lines of this Great War whether we like it or not. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ began a new phase of warfare. God the Son began the process of taking back his creation. The outcome of the war was decided completely by the substitutionary atonement but the process of repair, reconstruction, restoration and repossession of creation only began. Jesus expects his people to engage the enemy and be soldiers in His army.

We are commanded in Chapters 9 and 10 of Luke to not only preach the kingdom of God but also to heal the sick. This limited and localized form of restoration serves as a process to thwart the prince of darkness and the forces of evil. Mainline Christian churches have all but abandoned the healing ministry.

TRUTH

Classical logic deals with propositions that are either true or false. Historic Christianity stands on the beliefs that classical logic represents the truth of God and sound reason is the foundation of the Christian faith. The Christian God is a God of absolutes and one of His attributes is truth. God cannot lie (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2; II Tim 2:13). God's truth is never personal, situational, relative or unknowable; it is absolute.

On contentious issues (e.g. Calvinism vs. Arminianism, abortion for convenience, homosexuality, etc.), some churches invoke the concept of Positive Tolerance. This means that Christians not only have the right to disagree with one another, but all the various views must be regarded as equally valid by the yardstick of God's truth. Other churches simply ban the study and discussion of contentious issues. Excessive knowledge invites division; an ignorant congregation is a manageable congregation.

But Jesus said:

  • "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
  • "Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17)
  • "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (John 18:37)

Furthermore …the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). If the church would go about the process of separating truth from lie, would that not honor God?

MAGNIFICATION

God does not need us to worship Him. He is secure in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth without ego reinforcement from created beings. But He knows we need to worship Him for our own good! He knows we are born with a sin nature and embrace sinful behavior as soon as we are able. He knows sin is like the great black hole at the center of our galaxy, ever drawing its neighbors closer to oblivion. If I neglect asking the Holy Spirit to: (1) occupy and purify my heart, (2) help my will become aligned with the will of God, (3) help me discern the truth and (4) be Lord of my life, then I will gradually begin to spiral toward the black hole of evil. I will be weighed down by my own

  • Concupiscence
  • Bad judgment
  • Inconsistent will
  • Weariness caused by the constant struggle against temptation

and, at the very least, become a soldier overwhelmed by the battle. God initiates, advances and perfects everything that can be called good in man. He leads the sinner from one step to another in proportion as He finds response in the heart and disposition to obedience. We must constantly enlarge the influence of God in our lives and in our Church. We must constantly engage in the process of magnifying the influence of God.

These four processes can be remembered by means of the recurrence mnemonic PRTM from the Hebrew "Mem Tav Reysh Pe" (Strong Number 6579) meaning most noble prince. PRTM represents a mnemonic for:

  Prayer Restoration Truth Magnification
Prayer Praise Repentance Thanksgiving Mercy
Restoration Purification Regeneration Transformation Maintenance
Truth Precedent Reason Testament Manifold
Magnification Promise Revelation Trust Manifestation

The corresponding numerals are

P 80
R 200
T 400
M 40

which can be combined as

(PR)/(TM) = 1

to serve as a reminder that the two concepts, "Prayer Supporting Restoration" and "Truth Supporting Magnification" are equally important and neither should be neglected. If the weapon of prayer does not contribute to the restoration of God's creation from the bondage of evil then it is like using a sword to admire your own reflection rather than to vanquish the enemy. Similarly, if the declaration of truth does not contribute to the magnification of God, then it merely supports the worship of God's creation rather than the creator.