Thursday, January 7, 2010

"IF ONLY..."

I hope you've enjoyed the articles from Don Atkin's newsletter. One reason: you're about to take in yet another one. This one comes from Steve Crosby.

"IF ONLY..."

Perhaps my inbox is like yours. I get quite a few mailings, blog links, and newsletters deploring the state
of the Church and the myriad deficiencies that supposedly must be addressed before we can expect to
see God’s goodness manifest. Here’s a small sample of the type of commentary that abounds on the

Many Christians are careful to observe certain times, places, and rituals of worship, but when the church service is over,
they’re like those who profess no regard for Christ. In their manner of life, in the way they spend their time and money, in
their cares and worries, fears and pleasures, indulgences and diversions, it is often impossible to distinguish professing
Christians from the rankest unbelievers, until they once again gather to sing of their love and devotion to Jesus. Little wonder
that the skeptic makes such false standard-bearers the object of his scorn and jest, because he sees that their devotion goes
no deeper than the words they use in song and prayer. How can this be called Christianity, when such a manner of life finds
its proper condemnation in every page of the New Testament?

The church is filled with professing Christians whose faith has never gone beyond a conviction that the words of Scripture
are true. They believe in the Christ of the Bible, but do not know Him personally.

Many reformations have taken place throughout church history, but truth forces us to say that they have been in a large part
so many runaway births from the same mother, Babylon. Reformation requires a full departure from the wisdom of this world.

These statements are likely diagnostically true of the current state of affairs. There’s only one problem. William Law wrote them approximately
three hundred years ago.

There are those who are inclined “revivalistically” who would have us believe that if we were just more____________ (fill in the blank
with a virtue of your choice) that we would finally satisfy God somehow and revival would spring forth. If three hundred years of the
prayers of the righteous have been so ineffective as to show no progress, or even regression, why would we think more of the same
kind of effort for the next three hundred years would produce different results? Will people three hundred years from now be bemoaning
their state by reading about us bemoaning ours?

Could it be that we have some faulty, and in no small way, fancifully romantic ideas of what “revival” looks like? There has never been
a perfect day in a perfect church, because human beings are always involved. Since Calvary, every day is a day of divine favor and
opportunity, not prescribed perfections. His mercies are new every morning. Spiritual idealism will kill present joy.

There’s a great tension regarding the Lord’s Church. It’s both a disaster and a wonder at the same time. We all tend to view the
Church and what “needs to happen” through the lens of our gift mix and calling. We all have an “if only” that reflects the particular
prism through which we view what we believe to be lacking, or otherwise “holding back revival” in the Church:

If only we would win more souls, then God would . . .
If only we had more prayer and fasting, then God would . . .
If only we had more commitment to the Word, then God would . . .
If only our families were in order, then God would . . .
If only we had more character integrity, then God would . . .
If only we had more inner healing, then God would . . .
If only we were more repentant, then God would . . .
If only we would cry out in anguish, then God would . . .
If only we had more intimacy in worship, then God would . . .
If only we had citywide unity, then God would . . .
If only we had the demonstration of power and miracles, then God would . . .
If only we would abandon man-made traditions, then God would . . .
If only we would humble ourselves enough, then God would . . .
If only we could reach the next generation, then God would . . .
If only we could throw off the spirit of poverty, then God would . . .
If only we had more love, then God would . . .

The list never ends. Dear friends, these things could be said of any generation. Depending on how you and I are “wired” and called,
we will differ in our opinions of what we think the vital missing ingredient might be to supposedly release the manifestation of His kingdom
in fullness.

How is it that a faith that supposedly starts out with the unmerited favor of God degenerates into our trying to overcome the eternal
dissatisfactions of God with the shortcomings of our behavior?

Skilled pulpiteers can intellectually and emotionally manipulate a crowd into a weep-fest by carping on individual or corporate deficiencies
ad nauseum. The same pulpiteers can simultaneously build quite a following for themselves, as “champions of __________” (fill
in the blank with the cause of your choice.) God is not necessarily involved in any of it. It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s wrong.
It’s another matter to reveal Christ as all sufficient for all perceived lack—individual and corporate—past, present, and future.

The great danger among revivalists and those (including myself) who are passionate for purity, accuracy, and radical reformation is
that if we are not deeply established in the delights of the present reality of the New Covenant and the grace of God, we risk being
perpetually frustrated and dissatisfied. Rather than being messengers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, we can become the spiritual
equivalent of a supermarket tabloid: bad news sells—52 weeks a year.

God is not limited by our “if onlys.” In fact, in Christ, He took the “if onlys” out of the divine equation. The Old Covenant is characterized
by humanity’s ifs and God’s responses: if you . . . then I will. There are no “ifs” in the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, God
has declared His “I wills” (8 uncontingent “I wills” of God in the NC promise of Jer.31/Heb.8) apart from our “if onlys.” God has sworn
an oath with Himself (Hebrews 6:17-20), because He knows He cannot rely on our “if onlys” and promises. The “if onlys” have all
been met by Jesus Christ, crucified, and resurrected. Our job is to appropriate by faith what is done, and live it out, not create a list of
contingencies for God.

New Covenant Christianity is meant to be enjoyed, savored, and experienced as a present reality, in the face of all deficiencies. Even
as different ones of us pursue much needed change and reform, we must never forget the favor and amen of God that rests upon His
Church, even as she experiences the chastising disciplines of a child, and the unnecessary self-inflicted woes of her carnalities.

Steve Crosby

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