Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. —Jude 1:3
Although we have not yet examined the last two elements found in the [i] promoted by the Alabama Baptist Convention, we will cover the last area for which we had originally planned: looking now at an explanation of how we are to respond to these erroneous practices and what we must do to move forward in Christ’s Kingdom. Lord willing, we may be able to cover those other two elements sometime in the near future. Nevertheless, what we have covered in the practices thus far will suffice us to draw scriptural conclusions unto God’s glory by Christ’s exaltation.
This article may be considered the practical application of that which we have just learned in the previous lessons. Although it may not be exhaustive, though it may not absolutely identify every nuance, jot and tittle of the situations you may encounter, the Biblical principles expressed here, I pray, may be abundance to the impoverished soul, encouragement to the meek soul, comfort to the mourning soul, merciful to the persecuted soul, and satisfying to the hungering and thirsting soul. Perhaps you have a loved one practicing contemplative mysticism or possibly embracing one of its derivatives… or it could be that your church has adopted one or many of the practices endorsed by modern and ancient mystics… or quite possibly, there has been a subtle inclusion of one such practice in an area of church life and/or ministry. Whatever the case may be, let us endeavor to respond practically in these three ways: (1) discreetly; (2) sweetly; and (3) completely.
1. Discretely. Most of us have heard the expression, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”[ii] Because of the depraved nature of fallen flesh, though we are regenerated by God’s grace and new creatures in Christ, we still have an overzealous propensity to perform open heart surgery with a jack-hammer and a chainsaw. Now let’s not deny it. The Word of God tells us that it is true: for we tend to cut off men’s ears in our Gethsemane;[iii] or we might even rebuke the ascended King of kings when He tells us to dine on swine.[iv]
Now, this does not mean that I am leveling an attack on discernment ministries that lament, even wail, over the sin that trespasses against Christ’s church. No, the same fallen condition that causes us to often rush in with reckless abandon is the same depraved condition that makes us dull of hearing so that we will not understand, or else makes us obstinate and rebellious against the truth if we do at least comprehend its meaning. It is as the old story goes about the farmer who gave the city slicker a ride into town with his mule-drawn wagon.
“Is your mule a reliable beast to take us into town?” inquired the stranger from the city.
“Yup,” answered the farmer, “All she needs is a kind word t’ encourage her.” With that, the farmer stood up, pulling a hickory axe handle from the footboards in a quick but smooth movement, and smacked the mule square on top of the head with such force that it caused the animal’s front legs to buckle slightly. Putting the hickory handle down and grabbing the reigns, he smacked his lips twice and said, “Git up now, sweet thing.”
The city slicker was astonished. With eyes as wide as silver dollars he said, “I thought you said you have to speak kindly to her!”
“Yup, ya sure do. Ya just gotta get her attention first.”
What it means to be discrete in our approach to addressing the problems of these practices is that we want to ensure that we are armed with the whole truth; that is, the full counsel of God. I could have written the first point as “Truth” or “Word of God,” but part of the problem is that we will often take a few portions of Scripture that oppose the false doctrine or practice and end up only alienating ourselves and demonstrating our own ignorance and obstinacy. More often than not, approaching a situation in this way only helps those you’re attempting to reach put up their walls to keep you from bombarding them with chapter and verse; neither has your efforts built you up at all in your most holy faith; and worse, you may have even fed your own flesh, causing you to say to yourself, “Well, I guess I told them!”
When the atoning work of Christ upon Calvary’s tree is front and center in our approach to knowing the Scripture verses that oppose such doctrines and practices, Christ’s redemptive perspective allows us to understand why these doctrines and practices do not exalt Christ, do not give God glory, and do not enhance a love for and trust upon God’s inerrant and infallible Word. Christian discretion dwells in the very real difference between pronouncing God’s Word and possessing God’s Word, between merely saying and knowing God’s Word and being saturated with and nurtured by God’s Word. This lies at the very heart of true discernment.[v]
We must also beware that, although we may embrace the whole truth, there is a very real danger that we may take all the truth of God, and apply it in the same experiential way that the contemplative practitioner does. As the contemplative mystic uses his very subjective experience as the rule and gage for a “successful” practice of God’s presence, the Reformed, Bible Christian may likewise do the same, insisting that one must receive Biblical truth, scriptural doctrine, and Christian orthodoxy in the very same way that he has received it. Well, that is just as subjective and experience-based as the contemplative mystic’s practice.
We must remember that God’s special revelation of Himself is found in His Word, and that, by His grace alone. Jesus said,
All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Matthew 11:27
2. Sweetly. Most of us have heard, at one time or another, the expression, “There, but by God’s grace, go I.” Although we must be discerning when it comes to matters of doctrine and practice,[vi] and though we should render judgments whenever appropriate for the good of individuals, families, and the church of Jesus Christ,[vii] nonetheless, we should render unto no man evil for evil.[viii] Jesus said,
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16
Are they doing wrong? Are they altogether unrighteous? Are they deceived? Are they fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind? Are they thieves, robbing the people of God? Are they covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners?[ix] And what if they are?
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Ephesians 2:2-5
These who practice such things must receive the revelation of truth, just as did we all. If we are to be the vessels of honor by which the Lord would be pleased to use, we must have a discretion that is obedient to God’s Word and a submission to God’s sovereignty that manifests a true compassion that is far beyond the fallen nature of our flesh. This is harnessed through the last practical perspective of this article:
3. Completely. This has to do with whom we are devoted and to whom we are committed: Jesus Christ. It is said that wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. Yet, heavenly wisdom is not merely the proper application of knowledge; it is the proper application of Biblical knowledge and its understanding; and yet, as God’s truth is spiritually discerned,[x] real wisdom must have trusting faith in God’s Word, it must be ever submissive to the sovereign nature of God revealed in His Word, and it must be devoted, committed, and wholly surrendered to Christ for God’s glory alone according to God’s Word. Jesus said,
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27
These principles of truth applied to the Biblical means appropriate for your situation may not turn the tide of the darkness that creeps into your church services; it may not even stir the individual you have been interceding for and interacting with; nevertheless, your soul will grow in grace and be strengthened in faith. AND, if God is pleased and willing that such a situation would be overturned, or such an individual would be won to the gospel, then God will receive all glory, not only from those converted, but also from His heavenly host, and from you.
Also in this series:
Further Reading from Andy’s Contra Mundum blog
[i] ‘The Discipline of Simplicity’ and ‘The Discipline of Scripture Memory’; Spiritual Disciplines: Pathway to Christian Maturity; pgs.5, 7
[ii] Originated from the last line of the poem, “An Essay on Criticism.” written by English poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744).
[iii] Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. John 18:10
[iv] And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. Acts 10:13-14
[v] Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Psalms 119:11
[vi] Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
[vii] Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
[viii] Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:17-19
[ix] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
[x] But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14