Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series exploring seven temptations of the western Church, based on Jeff Christopherson’s novel, “Once You See.”
Several years ago, I gathered with four other North American pastors to sit at the feet of a grizzled Vietnamese pastor who was leading a network of thousands of house churches in the most spiritually persecuted region of Vietnam. This soft-spoken saint, who had spent a good portion of his adult life imprisoned for his faith (and literally bore the scars of Christ), was nothing short of an inspiration. We were humbled as we sat in his presence and listened to the story of God’s powerful work in his country.
Well, most of us were.
One of us was skeptical. He couldn’t wrap his mind around how such a decentralized idea of church could ensure biblical orthodoxy. He asked the very same question on doctrinal integrity in slightly different ways at least five or six times. Each time, in broken English, our pastor patiently answered the thinly veiled rebuke directed toward him. It was uncomfortable to say the least.
Finally, finding no more words to explain himself, in exasperation he broke, “Listen, pastors. This is what we do. We open Bible. We read Bible verse. We ask people, ‘Are we doing this verse?’ If no, we do not read next verse.”
And thus endeth the lesson.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. With little mastery of the English language, this pastor articulated the most precise explanation of true biblical orthodoxy that my overexposed ears had ever heard. True orthodoxy is found only in obedience. Period. And it is not found, despite my pastor-friend’s insistence, primarily in portentous intellectual agreement to approved theological codes.
So, that is where we will start.
Over the next seven weeks, from the biblical perspective of obedience, we will look at seven temptations that hamstring the mission of Christ in the Western Church. Each case revolves around something that we instinctively celebrate. But unfortunately, our reflexive celebrations often miss the heart of a more significant issue. So, we will see that in each of the seven temptations, that we in the West find ourselves celebrating a belief-system that doesn’t require obedience. In fact, they have become second-nature celebrations that often protect us from faith itself.
Like Paul’s ominous warning to Timothy from his “list of people to avoid,” have we arranged a system of beliefs for ourselves that have “the appearance of godliness, but none of its power?” (2 Tim. 3:5) Like Jesus’ zealous opponents, have we might have become “blind guides” who have successfully “strained the gnats.” But in “swallowing a camel” have we missed the very Kingdom of God? (Matt. 23:24). “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor 4:20).
So, what happened to us? How did we get here?
Temptation #1 – Philosophicalism: The Temptation Toward a Hypothetical Faith
Like most evangelicals, I am from a tribe that confidently declares “we are a Bible-believing people.” We celebrate it. We all do. I certainly do. We believe that the Bible is “God-breathed” and is solely adequate for our ministry of teaching, for correcting, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17). We join Luther crying, Sola Scriptura! God’s infallible Word, the holy Scriptures, permeated deeply into the lives of his people through the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the most transformational power on earth.