Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Unrealized Promise?

A message was preached in church the other night, coming from the text which tells us about the men who, when King Saul died, risked their lives to bring the body back for a proper burial. The application part of the message was about trying to get men in the church to next week's all-night prayer meeting. Maybe I missed something but this seemed to be the whole purpose.

The "application" part was rather harsh, in my opinion. Of course, I could sit there feeling good because I went to the last all-night prayer meeting. However even I did not feel like I escaped the tongue-lashing from the pulpit. Being the contrary, devils-advocate I am, my knee-jerk reaction is to not go, just because there was pressure put on us about it.

Of course, I believe in praying, and I also happen to believe in the subject of the prayer meeting, which is an upcoming conference. So I am pulled between not going just because I don't want to be one of the many who showed up because they felt guilty, and going because I want the upcoming conference to help those in attendance. Perhaps I will have a prayer meeting in my bedroom. :P

The next day it occured to me, how much "pressure" is used in churches. Now, I don't mean to overstate the case, but it is true, that many Christians perform because of pressure, and many leaders use pressure to get Christians to perform work of some sort. Pressure can come in many different forms.

It might be said, that this "pressure" we are talking about is nothing more than good old-fashioned exhortation. The word "exhort" as used in the Scripture literally means to "call near," or "invite". To exhort means to give an invitation or a call to do some thing. Exhortation is not, by definition, negative. In Luke 3, we find John the Baptist exhorting the people to believe through the preaching of the gospel. John in vs.16 & 17 is simply declaring the truth of his ministry and of Christ. The declaration of Christ is an exhortation to believe.

Paul in Acts 2 exhorts the people, again, to come to Christ. Here the Scripture has Paul inviting the people to repent and be baptized so as to save themselves from this "crooked generation". In Acts 20:2, Paul gives "much exhortation". One has to ask if the Macedonians were especially needing to be pressured. Of course this is not what is going on; rather Paul was inviting them to continue steadfast in the Lord. In I Ths 2:11, Paul "exhorted," "encouraged," and "charged" the church as Thessalonica to walk in the Lord. Obviously (if we accept the importance of the very words of Scripture) these three things are different and Paul is not merely repeating himself. Exhortation is different than charging, which would be the act that is closest to pressure. (Although the greek word for charging means "bearing witness." This may simply refer to saying, for example, "look at what I did, you should do it too," which is still not really pressure, per se.)

The other example of pressure given in motivating Christians is in reference to Heb 10:24 in the KJV:
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:"
The word "provoke" means to incite, to "call forth," and so is kin to "exhort". Webster in his 1828 dictionary assigns this verse the following meaning by using it as an example:
"To move; to incite; to stir up; to induce by motives"

We are to "consider" one another- this means to observe and understand fully, like close friends may understand each other. This is the basis of this provoking. Because of this, the provoking should only take place if you are close enough to that person to really understand where they need help and encouragement- in other words, their needs to be a personal friendship and trust. The idea of "provoking" "one another" sets out a wide peer-to-peer ministry taking place throughout the entire church body between every member.

The greek word for "provoke" literally means "to sharpen alongside." Proverbs talks about this:
Pro 27:17 KJVA Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
The notes for the NET Bible for this verse say this:
"The use of the word face would here emphasize that it is the personality or character that is being sharpened. Constructive criticism sharpens character. Use of the wits in interaction that makes two people sharp as a razor (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 615); another is that of two students sharpening each other in the study of the Torah (b. Ta’anit 7a)."

Again the idea here is that there is a close personal relationship that this "sharpening" or "provoking" is taking place within. And the provoking is obviously not offensive, but it is incisive, yet delivered in meekness and in Christian love.
This passage then is talking about interaction or constructive criticism between individual believers, not pressure (from the pulpit).

In a church of sufficient size there comes a point where not everyone can be close to the "pastor." Everyone is "friends" with the pastor, in a manner of speaking; but the relationship is not always such as would allow the pastor to, at any time, attempt this provoking ministry with any accuracy. If the pastor tries, especially before the whole church, there will be misfire simply because he just doesn't know where everyone is at. Such as I experienced this last church service.

I put a title of "The Unrealized Promise" because this idea of getting things done through pressuring believers calls into question the work of the Spirit. Why do so many churches resort to pressure, even if only at times? Of course, it depends on what group of churches you were looking at, but the impression is easy to get, that there is no Spirit at work, and this calls into question the very existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to cause us to will and to work of God's pleasure.

A believer falling into a life of sin calls into question the existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to keep us from falling.
Christians fighting over the truth of the gospel calls into question the existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to be able to lead us into all truth.

These are occasions for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. The promise of the Spirit seems, quite simply, unrealized at times.

No comments: