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Revival – 1 – The only hope for the Church and America.

Revival – 1 – The only hope for the Church and America.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most gifted preachers of the twentieth century. In addition to preaching as the minister of Westminster Chapel in London for twenty-five years, he preached extensively in Europe and the United States. In 1959, Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Welsh Revival of 1859 which had a powerful and profound impact on Wales, England, the United States, and other parts of the world as well. He did so because he saw the appalling condition of the church of his day and the need for revival as exceeding urgent. These sermons eventually became a widely acclaimed book titled Revival.[1]

Dr. Jones saw a profound and perilous difference between the conditions of the church in 1959 England and America than that which existed in one hundred years earlier. The kinds of problems facing the church in 1959 were far deeper and more desperate. The problems in 1859 were not ones of general denial of the Christian truth but of apathy toward Christ and the church. Correction was a matter of awakening and arousing the church from their lethargy. But in 1959, the moral and spiritual landscape had dramatically changed. Dr. Lloyd-Jones saw the modern-day problems as not just apathy but a “complete unawareness, even a denial of the spiritual altogether…the whole notion of the spiritual has gone. The very belief in God has virtually gone.”[2]

It has been fifty-eight years since Lloyd-Jones preached those sermons at a time when the Christian nations and individual Christians were far more sensitive, agreeable, and desirous of a divine move of the Holy Spirit in their midst, that is, a quickening divine visitation. Now, the church is in far more serious condition than that of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ day. Many church leaders and their congregants are oblivious to their great spiritual sickness and disastrous departures from biblical truth, doctrines, and holy lifestyles. The church has become acclimatized to the rising tide of secularism and humanism that has inundated the Western world.

As the spirit of the world invaded the church over the last six decades, there has been a corresponding displacement of the irreplaceable power and presence of the Holy Spirit within the church. Without the centrality of the Holy Spirit, the efforts, actions, and programs of the church are merely be a form of godliness but which denies the power thereof. Rev. Pierre Bynum has stated that because of the rebellion of the church, America is ripe for destruction.

The Evangelical Movement in this country is characterized by an arrogance that is almost beyond belief. The neglect of prayer, the involvement in Philistine methodology, the moral evils, the doctrinal corruptions that characterize the Movement are sufficient to cause the people of Sodom to wonder at God’s justice in destroying their city while sparing the United States.[3]

Conditions that demand revival of the church

Revival is the only event that can avert spiritual disaster for the church and turn a nation back to God. But God always sends men and women to warn of these approaching disasters. These modern-day watchmen on the wall are godly leaders and faithful intercessors who recognize the signs of the times and are calling attention to the woeful condition of both the church and the nation. They have sounded the alarm since the end of World War II to the present day. Here we quote just a few of these watchmen and their warnings that span the last seven decades.

…without revival in the church there is really no hope for the Western world at all.[4] [J. I. Packer summarizing the thrust of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his series of sermons in 1959 marking the 100th anniversary of the Welsh revival.]

Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely the evangelicals.[5] [A. W. Tozer, The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches, 1963.]

However much opinions of the realities involved may differ, no one can deny that there is widespread discussion of the decline of Western culture.[6] [Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order – The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, 1964.]

Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness… the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness…Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.[7] [Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his address, given when he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in May of 1983, in which he explained the process of alienation of the people of God and traditional Christian morality and beliefs through secularism and humanism.]

Truth demands confrontation. It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nevertheless…Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.[8] [Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 1984.] [emphasis in original]

Conformity to the spirit of the times appears to characterize the clergy as well as the laity…religion is declining because those identified with it do not actually believe in it…It is difficult to say that religion even exists if it keeps giving up its tenets to appease its members and critics…The first question, then, is why belief evaporated, why the West has become so rapidly secularized.[9] [Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, 1996.]

After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted by an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.[10] [Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, 2003.]

Western civilization is over. Everybody knows it…Following centuries of pride, schism, compromise, synthesis with humanism, and general hard-heartedness, God may be withdrawing His grace from the Western nations—at least for the time being. Nevertheless, there is always mercy for those who seek and those who are humbled before the almighty God. (Romans 11:20).[11] [Kevin Swanson, Apostate – The Men who Destroyed the Christian West, 2013.]

Rebellion, decline, and renewal of God’s people in the Bible

The pattern of sin and falling away from God followed by repentance, revival, and restoration of His people is a recurrent theme in the history of God’s dealings with the Israelites. In the Old Testament there were at least twelve instances of revival,[12] and seven of these cycles are found in the first sixteen chapters of Judges. Preceding each of these revivals there were at least four common elements present:

• A spiritual decline among God’s people.
• A righteous judgement from God – While varying from revival to revival, God’s judgement led to prayer, brokenness, repentance, and a desperate seeking of God’s face. Sometimes God’s judgement led to the deaths of the wicked.
• The raising up of an immensely burdened leader or leaders who had a heavy burden of the moral and spiritual needs of God’s people and the nation.
• Extraordinary actions were taken, the most common of which was a call for a Solemn Assembly of the people who humbled themselves, sought the Lord, wept, fasted, mourned, prayed, confessed and repented of their individual and national sins, and who committed themselves to leading a Godly life and separation from all unrighteousness of the nations.[13]

Revival – The only hope for the church and America

Revivals have been the sustaining lifeblood of the Protestant evangelical churches since they emerged just prior to and during America’s First Great Awakening in the early 1700s. The quest for revival was discarded by the liberal churches more than one hundred years ago, and revival most certainly was never sought after or tolerated in the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, revivals remained the central source of renewal and power of evangelical churches through the early 1960s and for some churches into the 1980s.

Beginning in the 1960s, the leadership in evangelical churches, seminaries, and other Christian organizations increasingly appear to have ignored the lessons of the Israelites’ rebellion, decline, and renewal in the Old Testament and have relegated revival to the dusty and forgotten shelves of church history. America’s pulpits became noticeably silent on matters of revival, and revivals virtually disappeared from the evangelical landscape along with the itinerant evangelists that held one and two-week revival meetings (longer if the Holy Spirit was moving upon the hearts and lives of those attending). As a result most of the laity under the age of fifty have little remembrance of revival meetings or have never experienced an extraordinary powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a local church.

Revival – Two opinions

One of the reasons for the absence of revivals is that they are controversial. Revivals are a supernatural work of the Spirit of God, and this supernatural aspect instills fear in the hearts of many Christians. Some claim revivals are “of the devil” or a form of mass hysteria. Others fear the supernatural manifestations of revival. Still others are opposed to revivals because they fear loss of control over the church life. That occurs because revivals are a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be controlled or directed by men. Revivals always challenge the status quo, upset the comfortable forms of godliness, and shine the light of God’s Word into the dark corners of the church where the spirit of the world often resides.

Others dismiss talk of revival and revival meetings as not being relevant to the needs of the church or compatible with the popular methods and techniques of doing church in these modern times. For most American evangelical pastors, revival is passé, out-of-date, archaic, unfashionable, obsolete, and an inconvenience in our fast-paced modern lives. It would be safe to say that the vast majority of evangelical churches haven’t sought revival or held a revival meeting in a quarter of a century. Revivals have been replaced by new ways of doing church. We are told that the modern Christian does not have the patience, time, or inclination to attend revival meetings. As previously stated, the subject of revival is missing from the preaching of most evangelical pastors in America. The focus has switched from revival to building the church through Church Growth methods and techniques that are seeker-friendly.

But there is another group. They are the contrite and lowly in spirit. It is to them that God said, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” [Isaiah 57:15. NIV] [emphasis added] These Christians are in great sorrow as a result of the vapid fare that now passes for Christianity in many churches. They are distraught by the casualness and carelessness with which many Christians approach church life and the things of God. They are crushed by the reality of a spiritually bankrupted nation that is being sucked into the vortex of a moral cesspool that threatens to engulf their children, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They are the spiritually hungry and know that God has more for them than what they are receiving from the great majority of evangelical churches today. They want more than just programs, entertainment, activities, and playing church. They hunger for more of God—a life-changing, soul-drenching deluge of the manifest presence of God. What they seek is God’s promise of revival!
______

The purpose of this book is to call the leadership of America’s evangelical churches to teach, preach, and seek revival in their churches. Lay men and women are called to pray unceasingly for a divine manifestation of God’s presence in their midst. Given the significant ignorance of revivals and matters pertaining thereto among both pastors and the laity, many aspects of revival will be examined and considered in this book. These include:

• Need for revival
• History of revivals and awakenings since the early 1700s
• Meaning of revival
• Purposes of revival
• Hindrances to revival
• Characteristics and happenings in revival
• Prerequisites for revival
• Seeking revival

______

It has been over one hundred years since the last significant revival of the American evangelical church followed by a general moral and spiritual awakening in America. The condition of the Western church is vastly more spiritually barren and destitute than any time since immediately before the Reformation. As a consequence, a large part of the American evangelical church is sick, and without a course correction very soon it may be a sickness unto death. The symptoms are many—powerlessness, apathy, worldliness, biblical ignorance, false teachers, false doctrine, rebellion, and apostasy to name just a few. Yet, the majority of its pastors and congregations are oblivious to their spiritual condition and imminent peril.

America’s only hope is the church, and the only hope for the church is revival. But before revival will come, the church must recognize its spiritual barrenness, its great need of revival, and the necessary prerequisites that make revival possible.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1987), pp. iv-v.
[2] Ibid., p. 13.
[3] Rev. Pierre Bynum, Family Research Council Prayer Team, April 19, 2017.
http://www.frc.org/prayerteam/prayer-targets-rev-ro-roberts-the-solemn-assembly-national-day-of-prayer-may-4-2017 (accessed April 20, 2017).
[4] Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p. vi.
[5] A. W. Tozer. The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches, (Nyack, New York: Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1963), pp. 4-5.
[6] Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order – The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, (Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1964), p. 3.
[7] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Men have forgotten God” – The Templeton Address, May 1983, The Voice Crying in the Wilderness, July 5, 2011. http://orthodoxnet.com/blog/2011/07/men-have-forgotten-god-alexander-solzhenitsyn/ (accessed October 13, 2017).
[8] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Arcadia, California: Focus on the Family, 1984), p. 27.
[9] Robert H. Bork,Slouching Towards Gomorrah, (New York: Regan Books, 1996), pp. 280-281.
[10] Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003), p. 12.
[11] Kevin Swanson, Apostate – The Men who Destroyed the Christian West, (Parker, Colorado: Generations with Vision, 2013), pp. 13, 19.
[12] Bynum, Family Research Council Prayer Team, April 19, 2017.
[13] Ibid.

The Bible and The Benedict Option – Part III

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. [2 Corinthians 6:17-18. KJV]

In the Old Testament, God’s requirement for the Israelites was separation from the people of other nations whose lifestyles and practices would influence and corrupt His chosen people. In the New Testament, God still requires His people to separate themselves from the world as we see above in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18. But New Testament commands are not for separation from nations but separation (1) from world systems (by which is meant the “beliefs, lifestyles, and God-defying ways of doing things”), (2) from those in the church who are disobedient and defiant toward God and refuse to turn from their own ways, and (3) “from false teachers, churches, or religious systems that promote ungodly beliefs and deny the truth of God’s Word as revealed in the Bible.” [1]

The books of the New Testament were written in the first century following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon thereafter began the Christian diaspora throughout the world. There could no longer be a physical separation of God’s people from the nations of the world. Rather, they would reside within the nations of the world. Christ addressed this new paradigm of separation in John’s gospel.

I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [John 17:14-16. KJV]

In the New Testament model of separation, there is a dynamic tension in which the individual Christian and the church must live—being in the world but not of it. We cannot avoid this tension for it is an inherent part of every Christian’s walk and every church’s ministry. To attempt to lessen the tension is to fall into one of two ditches that parallel the narrow path. The first ditch is that of worldliness, and the second is isolation similar to the separation demanded in the Old Testament. These Christians attempt to established isolated, self-contained islands of Christianity in the midst of a hostile culture. But to do so is to disobey Christ’s command to model and share His message in our daily walk. The Christian life is a balancing act of being separate and at the same time being salt and light to the world. [See: Matthew 5:13-16.]

The Benedict Option – Neither “in” the world or “of” the world

Yet, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option substantially follows this second path of neither being “in” the world or “of” the world. Dreher has chosen the option of building islands of Christian life (faith, family, church, work, etc.) amidst an increasingly hostile and anti-Christian culture. This is somewhat akin to the Old Testament separation model of being an island among nations. Dreher’s book makes this obvious.

Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to…stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation…In the first centuries of Christianity, the early church survived and grew under Roman persecution and later after the collapse of the empire in the West. We latter day Christians must learn from their example—and particularly from the example of Saint Benedict. [2] [emphasis added]

Dreher is not suggesting surrender to the culture but rather a strategic retreat. But the New Testament establishes different marching orders for Christ’s soldiers of the faith.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. [Ephesians 6:10-12. KJV]

“Strength, power of his might, armour, and wrestle” are words that point to the Christian’s mandate from Christ. These words are not descriptive of those Christians who choose isolation from the world in the secure confines of an ark.

Dreher is correct that Christians should “work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” This was the example of the early church before its corruption by the dying Roman Empire. But these communities, institutions, and networks cannot be built on the foundation of Catholic monasticism and the Rule of Benedict. As we saw in Part II, monasticism was a reaction to the corruption of the early church which had been infiltrated by the Roman world system. Monasticism’s quest for renewed spirituality in the church during the Middle led to asceticism and not a return to the pure teachings of the Bible. [3] The varying degrees of corruption in the Catholic Church for over a thousand years led to the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Monasticism, asceticism, and adherence to the Rule of Benedict were not and cannot be a life preserver for a corrupt church or a substitute for the pure teachings of the Bible.

The merit of Dreher’s book is that it offers, with some modifications, several specific ways for Christians to live separated and insulated lives amid an increasingly hostile culture. The biblically literate and astute reader is left to separate those bits of wheat from the remaining tares in Dreher’s book.

Separation through isolation

A major flaw in Dreher’s book is the isolation of the Christian, his family, and close community from the surrounding worldly culture. The American fundamentalists of the early twentieth century retreated from the culture and circled their wagons after their defeat by the liberal/modernist churches to become the recognized although vapid voice of Christianity in the various spheres of American life. Just as the modernist had lost their saltiness, the fundamentalists hid their light as they abandoned the culture and its institutions. Aided by the liberal church, the forces of secularizing humanism were no longer challenged in their efforts to wreak havoc in American culture.

Dreher is recommending the same type of disengagement from the culture which is confirmed by his rhetorical question, “Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to…stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again?”

But this is not the message of the Bible. Near the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructed His disciples about their mission in a dark and desolate world.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. [Matthew 5:13-16. KJV]

When considering Christ’s instruction that the church should be salt and light to the world, His words appear to conflict with His instruction at the end of His Sermon on the Mount in which the church is commanded to walk a separate path from that of the world. [Matthew 7:13-14] Throughout its history, the church often has had difficulty with balancing these seemingly contradictory commands. The early church was no exception.

In reality, it is not a choice between the church’s separateness from a wicked world or spreading salt and light to a lost and dying world. Sin is sin in whichever camp it resides—failure to be separate or failure to be salt and light. The absence of one shall surely sound the death knell of the other. The point is that the church must declare the eternal truth of God and His relationship with man. This was done in every generation from the first century church to the present in cultures that were uniformly hostile to the message of the church. As the church becomes salt and light to the world, it must do so without mixing with world systems through accommodation and compromise.

To be clear, Christian communities, institutions, and networks must be built on separation and insulation from world systems but not isolation from the lost souls therein. The reality for Christians that choose to follow Christ’s example is that they may eventually find themselves isolated and marginalized by the world to the point of persecution and possibly death. Christians who board Benedict’s ark of isolation will not be spared by a rapacious, satanically inspired culture.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Donald Stamps, Commentary – Spiritual Separation for Believers, The Full Life Study Bible – King James Version – New Testament, Gen. Ed. Donald C. Stamps, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1990), p. 2210.
[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, (New York: Penguin Books, 2017), p. 12.
[3] B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951, 1964), p. 92.

The Bible and The Benedict Option – Part II

Rod Dreher believes that Christian participation in a hostile secular culture is no longer possible and that conservative Christians must develop a unique, countercultural way to live their lives and raise their families in order to hold on to their faith and their values. To fight the world’s efforts to assimilate Christianity and infuse it with the world’s value system, conservative Christians must have a paradigm shift as they rethink how they live their lives within the family, their church, and community. Dreher calls this strategic withdrawal from a hostile culture “The Benedict Option.”[1] Although Dreher rightly assesses the need for greater separation between the church and the world’s value system in many spheres of life, the implementation of many of Dreher’s options based on the Rule of Benedict incorporates several Catholic doctrines and practices that stand in opposition to the Bible and Protestant doctrines. In Part II, we shall examine some of the most important points of conflict.

Monasticism

The heart of Dreher’s effort at separating the Christian life from the world rests on Catholic monasticism. Monasticism began with Antony, an Egyptian peasant, who went alone into the desert and after thirty-five years emerged as a spiritual master. Saint Athanasius immortalized Antony by writing his biography which helped spread the “monastic” or “ascetic” movement near the end of the fourth century about the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. At this time certain ones of the church became hermits or monks and were known as the Desert Fathers.[2] These men and women sold all of their possessions and began a life of penance and prayer. Eventually, many of these monks came together in monasteries, in which each monk had his own cell, to withdraw from the world and live alone. The goal of these early monks was to “flee from a world that was wicked in order to lead a holy life.”[3]

Dreher admits that the Rule is for monasteries, but he states that its teachings can be adapted by lay Christians for use in ordering their daily lives in a way that “orders us interiorly, bringing together what is scattered within our own hearts and orienting it to prayer.” Dreher calls it “a manual of practices through which believers can structure their lives around prayer, the Word of God, and the ever-deepening awareness …” of God’s universal presence.[4] But Christians do not need the Rule of Benedict to achieve these worthy goals when they have the Word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their Christian growth.

Monasticism was a reaction to the decline of the early church as it was infiltrated by the Roman world system when Christianity was legalized and eventually became the Empire’s official religion in 381. In other words, monasticism fosters a religion of works, that is, doing works for God as opposed to having a personal relationship with Him. According to church historian B. K. Kuiper,

…monasticism was based upon the recognition by the Church of a higher and a lower morality. If one wished to be a Christian in a higher sense one should become a monk or nun…This differentiation between a higher and lower morality is a false distinction…The underlying error of monasticism as a method of attaining holiness is thinking that the sinful heart is cleansed by fleeing from the world.[5]

The quest for renewed spirituality by the monastics during the Middle Ages seemed to lead to revival of religion, but it was an unhealthy revival. Monasticism’s revival led to asceticism and not a return to the pure teachings of the Bible.[6]

Asceticism

The form of monasticism which led men to separate themselves from society and become hermits living in forests and caves during the fourth century became a widely accepted practice in the Eastern Orthodox churches. In the monasticism of the Western Roman church, monks and nuns generally grouped themselves into monasteries and convents. These monks and nuns observed a variety of ascetic practices including rejection of earthly goods, frequent fasting, limiting their food and drink, and some eating nothing but bread and water. All rejected marriage. Some beat themselves with whips or scourges as a means of chastising themselves. Apart from their assigned work, they spent their time in prayer, reading religious books, and meditation. In time various monasteries formed themselves in monastic orders which several cloisters were under the rule of a common government.

According to Dreher, the vision of Benedict’s Rule is to help the Christian achieve “an ordered life centered on Christ and the practices it prescribes to deepen our conversion…”[7] [emphasis added] One of those Catholic practices to achieve the ordered life is asceticism by which is meant “taking on physical rigors for the sake of a spiritual goal…” According to Dreher, “…the life prescribed by the Rule is thoroughly ascetic…”[8] [emphasis added]

This is not a matter of earning spiritual merit. Rather, the monk knows the human heart and how its passions must be reined in through disciplined living…ascetical practices train body and soul to put God above self…A Christian who practices asceticism trains himself to say no to his desires and yes to God…

To rediscover Christian asceticism is urgent for believers who want to train their hearts, and the hearts and the hearts of their children, to resist the hedonism and consumerism at the core of contemporary culture. In the teaching of the Desert Fathers, every Christian struggles to root out all desires within their hearts that do not harmonize with God’s will.[9]

Luke’s gospel says, “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and follow me.” [Luke 9:23. KJV] Is this biblical confirmation of the Catholic practice of asceticism? Absolutely not! Those who promote Catholic asceticism misinterpret the denial of oneself as commanded by Christ. The self-denial required by Christ is belief in the truth of His message and a commitment to follow him regardless of the cost. But asceticism’s mandate is that the Christian should purposely seek out discomfort or pain to train the body and soul to put God above self. The Apostle Paul said, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” [1Timothy 6:17. KJV] Often, those following the ascetic practices of self-denial do so in order to purge himself from sin or earn God’s favor, but no amount of austerity can earn salvation or obtain God’s love which He freely gives. The Christian does not live by a set of rules devised by man, be they saint or sinner, but must live by the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Asceticism is often linked with the Catholic sacrament of penance which is different from the Protestant understanding of repentance for sin. The central core of penance was the priest’s act of pardoning of sin and release from eternal punishment (absolution). There are three parts of absolution: contrition, confession to a priest, and satisfaction. Satisfaction was a penalty for sins committed, and the priest would decide the type of satisfaction required of the penitent. There were many types of satisfaction that could be imposed including the saying a prescribed number of prayers, fasting, giving alms, going on a pilgrimage to a shrine, or by participating in a crusade. Many times it involved pain.[10] Recall that the Catholic Church’s abuse of penance was the spark that led to the Protestant Reformation.

Prayer

Dreher states that to pray is to engage in contemplation. The Benedictine method of contemplative prayer is called lectio divina.

For monks, prayer is not simply words they speak. Each monk spends several hours daily doing lectio divina, a method of Scripture study that involves reading a Scripture passage, meditating on it, praying about it, and finally contemplating its meaning for the soul. The idea is not to study the Bible as a scholar would but rather to encounter it as God speaking directly to the individual…It is not just some kind of intellectual meditation.[11]

There are four stages to enter into lectio divina which “enables the Bible, as the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.”[12]

1. Reading/Listening

Lectio reading – In the Prologue to Benedict’s Rule, he states, …we must learn to be silent…to first quiet down in order to hear God’s word to us. As they read, practitioners of the art of lectio divina are encouraged to cultivate “the ability to listen deeply, to hear ‘with the ear of our hearts’…” Lectio is also reverential listening “…both in a spirit of silence and of awe…” listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak personally, quietly, and intimately to the practitioner as they “read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s word for us this day.” [emphasis added]

2. Meditation

Once the practitioner has found a word or a passage in the Scriptures which speaks to him in a personal way, he must take it in and “ruminate” on it similar to that of a cow quietly chewing its cud. Then, the practitioner must memorize it, and while gently repeating it to himself, allow it to interact with the practitioner’s thoughts, hopes, memories, and desires. Through such meditation, the practitioner supposedly allows God’s word to become His word that touches and affects the practitioner at his deepest levels. [emphasis added]

3. Prayer

The third step in lectio divina is to offer prayer which is to be both a loving conversation with God and a prayer of consecration. In this consecration-prayer, the participant allows the word that they have received and pondered to touch and change their deepest selves. At this point God invites the practitioner of lectio divina to hold up their most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given them in their reading, listening, and meditation.

4. Contemplation

In the last stage the practitioner contemplates in wordless silence the presence of God who has used His word as a means of inviting the practitioner to accept His transforming embrace.[13]

There are various modern versions of lectio divina which have invaded many evangelical churches beginning in the 1980s. All methods of contemplative prayer including lectio divina contain various occult practices used in Eastern religions such as quietness, stillness (emptying one’s mind of thought and emotions), and repetition of sounds, words, or phrases. Proponents of such contemplative prayer describe the practice as follows:

Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.

The repetition [of a word or phrase] can in fact be soothing and very freeing, helping us…to empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.[14]

Those practicing contemplative prayer are encouraged to achieve inner stillness through meditative, mantra-style practices such as taking a word or syllable and repeating it over and over. However, these contemplative prayer practices closely mimic New Age and Eastern meditation techniques and can quickly lead to putting the mind into a neutral, altered state of consciousness. Such states are an open door to all manner of evil, mystical satanic spirits.

Dreher encourages parents to teach their children scripture through the practice of lectio divina. But Christians do not need occult contemplative prayer practices in order to come into union with God. Rather, all Christians, whether young or old, can find the peace, joy, and fellowship that arise from a close personal and growing relationship with God. This occurs through an adherence to biblical practices of prayer, the reading of God’s Word with all of one’s heart and mind, and the work of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.
______

In Part II we have discussed the errant Catholic doctrine and practices of monasticism, asceticism, and lectio divina promoted by Dreher. These are significant departures from biblical doctrines and Protestant theology. As pointed out in Part I, this is one of the great dangers of a casual reading of The Benedict Option by a vast body of biblically illiterate Christians in evangelical churches across America during the present end-times great apostasy spoken of by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24.

In Part III, we shall conclude this series by examining some of the recommendations of Dreher that, with modification, are worthy of consideration by Christians living in a progressively hostile and anti-Christian culture.

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, (New York: Penguin Books, 2017), p. 2.
[2] Alan Schreck, Ph.D., The Compact History of the Catholic Church, Revised Edition, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2009), pp. 27-28.
[3] B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951, 1964), p. 45.
[4] Dreher, The Benedict Option, p. 53.
[5] Kuiper, The Church in History, pp. 93-94.
[6] Ibid., p. 92.
[7] Dreher, The Benedict Option, p.54.
[8] Ibid., p. 63.
[9] Ibid., pp. 63-64.
[10] Kuiper, The Church in History, p. 158.
[11] Dreher, The Benedict Option, pp. 58-59
[12] “Lectio Divina: Pray-Read Scripture,” http://www.prayerfoundation.org/lectio_divina.htm (accessed August 11, 2017).
[13] Ibid.
[14] LT Editors, “What your church needs to know before doing a Priscilla Shirer Study,” Lighthouse Trails Research Journal, Vol. 5-No. 4, (July-August 2017), 8-9.

The Bible and The Benedict Option – Part I

In 2017, Rod Dreher published his book The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.[1] Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. Dreher is Roman Catholic and received book endorsements from high level Catholic officials as well as favorable endorsements from several well-respected Protestant conservatives including Russell Moore, President, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore wrote, “I’m more missionary than monastery, but I think every Christian should read this book. Rod Dreher is brilliant, prophetic, and wise. Even if you don’t agree with everything in this book, there are warnings here to heed and habits here to practice.”[2]

Reverend Moore may be correct in his assessment that there are nuggets of wisdom that may be gleaned from Dreher’s book. But Moore’s encouragement for Christians to read Dreher’s book ignores two significant dangers for the typical modern evangelical Christian. The first is the pandemic biblical illiteracy of the evangelical church in America and the remainder of Western civilization. Some have said that the knowledge of the Bible across the Christian world is the lowest since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago. The second danger is apostasy. The liberal church had become fully apostate by the 1930s, and much of the leadership of many of the once conservative evangelical churches had traveled far down the road to apostasy by the end of the twentieth century. Considering what has happened over the last two hundred years in Europe and America, Kevin Swanson called this period “the most significant Christian apostasy of all time. As measured by sheer numbers, there is no other apostasy so extensive in recorded history.”[3]

Because of these twin dangers, the average Christian is ill prepared to be able to separate the warnings and habits the evangelical Christian ought to heed and practice from the deceptive and seductive charms of false doctrines of the Catholic Church. Here we are reminded of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew 13:24-30. Dreher’s book does contain wheat but also many tares. It is the purpose of this article to examine the propositions and recommendations of Dreher and make that separation, that is, to separate the wheat from the tares.

Dreher makes powerful and discerning arguments that unmask the great secularization of culture and the weakened condition of the church in our time. He also laments that the churches—Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox—are largely ineffective in stemming the forces of cultural decline and have become “content to be the chaplaincy to a consumerist culture that was fast losing a sense of what it meant to be Christian.”[4] There can be little argument with these statements.

In the first part of his book, Dreher defines the challenges facing post-modern Christian America. Many of his observations are devastatingly clear presentations of the signs of the times.

The storm clouds have been gathering for decades, but most of us believers have operated under the illusion that they would blow over…Today we see that we’ve lost on every front and that the swift and relentless currents of secularism have overwhelmed our flimsy barriers…We tell ourselves that these developments have been imposed by a liberal elite, because we find the truth intolerable: The American people, either actively or passively, approve.[5]

If demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty. Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life.[6]

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)…is colonizing existing Christian Churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”…it’s most about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Thought superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.[7]

We cannot give the world what we do not have. If the ancient Hebrews had been assimilated by the culture of Babylon, it would have ceased being a light to the world. So it is with the church.

Just as God used chastisement in the Old Testament to call His people back to Himself, so He may be delivering a like judgement onto a church and a people grown cold from selfishness, hedonism, and materialism. The coming storm may be the means through which God delivers us.[8]

Dreher correctly identifies much of what ails the Christian world in the West. But his solutions involve an undeniably Catholic prescription centered on Catholic doctrine and practices which are to be applied to all of Christianity. This prescription recommends and incorporates the Christian virtues found in a sixth century monastic guidebook, Rule of Saint Benedict, which he claims played a significant role in preserving Christian culture during the Dark Ages.

In the second part of his book, Dreher presents this guidebook as having answers that can be adapted and applied to the lives of modern Christian conservatives of all churches and confessions with regard to politics, faith, family, community, education, and work. In the last two chapters before his conclusion, Dreher addresses the calamitous impact of modernity’s powerful tsunami of sex and technology that has devastated the modern Western church.[9]

The Benedict Option

In a previous book written by Dreher, he quotes philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre who believed that Western civilization had lost its moorings and eventually would require that continued Christian participation in a hostile secular culture would not be possible and would require that they find new ways to live in community. Dreher labeled MacIntyre’s strategic withdrawal from such a hostile culture “the Benedict Option.”[10]

The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.[11]

Benedict was the son of the governor of Nursia, a rugged village in central Italy’s Sibylline Mountains. At the beginning of the sixth century, Benedict was a young man and left his village to complete his education in Rome. Ninety years earlier, the Visigoths sacked Rome and only 24 years earlier the barbarians had deposed the last Roman emperor in the West. The barbarian-ruled Rome had become a city of decadence, vice, and corruption which shocked the young Benedict. As a result, he turned his back on his life of privilege and retreated to a cave forty miles east of Rome. There he lived life as a hermit devoting himself to prayer and contemplation. After three years he was invited to become the abbot of a monastic community. He would later found twelve monasteries of his own in the region.[12]

Benedict wrote a small guidebook for laymen, later known as Rule of Saint Benedict, a practical guide for monks and nuns to lead an orderly and simple life consecrated to Christ.[13] Benedict’s little book provided a detailed set of instructions for organizing and governing a monastic community that lives in poverty and chastity which is common to all monastic orders. However, Benedict’s Rule added three distinct vows: “obedience, stability (fidelity to the same monastic community until death), and conversion of life, which meant dedicating oneself to the lifelong work of deepening repentance.” The Rule provides for division of the day into periods devoted to “prayer, work, and reading of scripture and other sacred texts.”[14]

Dreher says that although Benedict’s Rule is for monastics, its teachings are plain and therefore understandable by lay Christians. “It provides a guide to serious and sustained Christian living in a fashion that reorders us interiorly, bringing together what is scattered within our hears and orienting it to prayer.” Dreher believes that such actions Christians can build lives that stand “as an island of sanctity and stability amid the high tide of liquid modernity…a way to be strong in faith through a time of great testing.”[15]

There is a measure of beneficial wheat in Dreher’s book, but for the Protestant, the indiscriminate implementation of The Benedict Option brings with it many Catholic tares, both in doctrines and practices. We shall examine both the wheat and tares of The Benedict Option in Part II.

Larry G. Johnson
The Bible and The Benedict Option – Part I
Sources:

[1] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option – A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, (New York: Penguin Books, 2017).
[2] Ibid., dust jacket.
[3] Kevin Swanson, Apostate – The Men who destroyed the Christian West, (Parker, Colorado: Generations with Vision, 2013), p. 19.
[4] Dreher, The Benedict Option, pp. 1-2.
[5] Ibid., pp. 8-9.
[6] Ibid., p. 10.
[7] Ibid., pp. 10-11.
[8] Ibid., p. 19.
[9] Ibid., p. 4.
[10] Ibid., p. 2.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., pp. 12-14.
[13] Ibid., p. 15.
[14] Ibid., pp. 50-51.
[15] Ibid., pp. 53-54.

The Shack – False doctrine

One of the great afflictions of the modern evangelical church in America is the absence of biblical knowledge by a large majority of professing Christians in the last decades of the twentieth century and to the present day. This pervasive ignorance of the Bible is consistent with the spirit of the age in which constant and thematic biblical preaching and teaching have substantially declined in many evangelical churches. The preaching of the message of the Bible has been dumbed down and therefore is made a husk without the life sustaining core from which the Christian finds spiritual nourishment. As a result a large segment of American Christianity does not have a solid grasp of the basic elements of the faith as taught in Scripture and confirmed by the doctrinal understandings of their faith. Writing in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spoke of the consequences for this remarkable lack of familiarity with the meat of the Word.

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?[1 Corinthians 3:1-3. NIV] [emphasis in original]

Not only was the Corinthian church worldly because a lack of the meat of the Word, the pastors and leaders of the Corinthian church had allowed many to come into the church who claimed to have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior but who had not given up their ungodly lifestyles and practices. These false Christians also were allowed to become a part of the ministry. Their ungodly practices and “incorrect presentation of biblical truth” were tolerated within the church. Donald Stamps wrote in his commentary on verse 3 that, “Among the greatest evidences of immaturity and worldliness among believers are disunity and the strong desire to idolize and follow human personalities rather than Christ.”[1] [emphasis added] Paul’s description of worldliness and immaturity in the Corinthian Church is the epitome of those evangelical churches in modern America that have embraced the Church Growth-seeker friendly model of doing church.

Paul links immaturity and worldliness in the church with human personalities whose message is not that of Christ. Peter called these personalities false prophets and false teachers.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.[2 Peter 2:1-3. NIV] [emphasis added]

In other words, false teachers will make merchandise of the Christian faith and the message of the Bible and thereby enrich themselves personally while at the same time enhancing their ministries. These false teachers are found not only in the pulpit but in various other ministries and pseudo-Christian organizations including writers and speakers. Christians must be aware that one of the main methods of these false teachers is to use “stories they have made up.”[2]

It is here we examine The Shack, one of those made up stories that has introduced destructive heresies, brought the truth of God’s Word into disrepute, and made merchandise of the faith of Christians with fabricated stories.

The Shack – Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity[3] was written by William P. Young. It has sold millions of copies and was made into a movie. The Shack is a made up story that unquestionably qualifies for all of Paul’s condemnations listed in 2 Peter 2:1-3. But there is another that has specifically brought The Shack and its author to account.

James B. De Young wrote Burning Down “The Shack” – How the “Christian” Bestseller is Deceiving Millions in 2010, three years after The Shack was published. De Young knew William Young well and observed the change in his beliefs that eventually found their way into The Shack. The back cover of Burning Down The Shack, states that De Young “…shows how spiritually flimsy The Shack truly is, and how its enticing yet false doctrine is stealthily cracking the foundations of countless Christians’ faith—rotting away their very concept of the true God.”[4]

This article will not attempt to add to De Young’s very capable critique of The Shack. I would encourage you to read Burning Down The Shack for yourself. However, for those of you who for various reasons cannot devote the time, I have included a link to the Nehemiah Institute for a review of De Young’s book and its critique of The Shack.

Dan Smithwick is the president and founder of the Nehemiah Institute whose primary work is in providing a unique worldview testing and training service to private schools, churches, homeschoolers, and other Christian ministries. Programs are designed for junior high through adult ages. Dan and I have been friends at a distance since we connected about eight years ago following the publication of my book Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision. This last spring Dan wrote a review of De Young’s book and said that “Burning Down The Shack may be the most important book of the 21st century.” During a phone conversation shortly thereafter, Dan graciously allowed me to reprint his review in culturewarrior.net. Upon reflection, I think it is more appropriate that you read the review on the Institute’s website. You may access the website by clicking on the following link:

http://www.nehemiahinstitute.com/articles/index.php?action=show&id=43

Larry G. Johnson

Sources:

[1] Donald C. Stamps, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:1-3,” The Full Life Study Bible, King James Version, ed. Donald C. Stamps, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1990), p. 2148.
[2] Stamps, Commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-3, The Full Life Stud Bible, p. 2458.
[3] William P. Young, The Shack – Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, (Newbury Park, California: Windblown Media, 2007).
[4] James B. De Young, Burning Down “The Shack, – How the “Christian” Bestseller is Deceiving Millions, (Washington, D.C.: WND Books, 2019), back cover.