Towards Evangelical Revival: Part 2

Why is the local church the way it is? This is the question we are addressing. And with the help of arguably the best expositor of the twentieth century, we are answering it.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones contends that dead orthodoxy, manifesting itself as a smug contentment, is a major hindrance to revival in the church. He calls it “the greatest danger confronting many of us.” Notwithstanding the fact the Doctor said this in 1959 during a series of messages marking the 100th anniversary of the Welsh Revival, I have no reluctance asserting that many today sense a timeless relevance to MLJ’s observation. Dead orthodoxy lives amongst us. And the stench of smug contentment wreaks to those blessed with spiritual noses.

Wherever there is a self-satisfaction in doctrinal orthodoxy, in having all the right beliefs, you will find “ease in Zion.” But this, MLJ contends, further leads to an unwillingness to be disturbed. The preacher, or teacher, or anyone else for that matter, must not unsettle. Generalities are desired. Sermons must not get specific. They must not be allowed to probe the soul. That kind of thing is forbidden. After all, those in the pew are the orthodox ones. They have the right doctrine. What they need, so they contend, is something to make them feel better for the coming week. “We have got our religion; we feel it is alright.” Sacred is my safety! Do not mess with my sense of security! Let us study some great Bible character, or preach against some pervasive, cultural sin, or speak in broad terms so I can feel what you say isn’t applicable to me! What! What is this? O that we all understand that the one God esteems is he who trembles at His word (Is. 66:2)! O that we cling to knowing that in the “now and not yet,” believers need the ministry of the Sword of the Spirit! His work in us has only begun; it is not yet completed. Thus, we need to heed the preaching of faithful, hard-working, Christ-exalting pastors who wield the Sword for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of the saints!

Refusing to allow the Word to intrude goes hand in glove with a proud ease, puffed up by having its doctrinal ducks all in a row. When was the last time your pastor prayed, even pleaded with God in his pastoral prayer, for Divine eyes to search the hearts of his people, to see if there be any wicked way in them, to lead them in the everlasting paths of righteousness? When was the last time you prayed that, Christian? What I fear is that the effort expended to keep things of the soul at arms length, remote, and “out there,” indicates not the need for revival in the local church, but its very resurrection. After all, even the demons are orthodox, and yet tremble (James 2:19)!

And then there is this thing with coming together on Sunday morning. Why do the smug, those at ease in Zion with all their orthodoxy do this? Well, it is the right thing to do, of course. The corporate meeting with God and His people must be a matter of priority. Such folk insist this. They fight, if only within themselves, that coming together weekly for hymns and prayers and sermons is a non-negotiable. Such is the life, purpose, and success of the church! But is it? Really? Of course, these things are, in and of themselves, good things. But here’s the rub: the smug do so expecting nothing. And nothing happens to them. It is all very inconsequential. There is no vitality in it; it’s all very empty. Perhaps why this is the way it is, is because the self-satisfied do not expect that God might show up. They limit their gaze and hopes to the people of the church. Ha! Just think of it! If church gatherings are nothing more but a weekly collision of saints who are yet sinners, count me out! Listen to MLJ:

How often does this vital idea enter into our minds that we are in the presence of the living God, that the Holy Spirit is in the Church, that we may feel the touch of his power? How much do we think in terms of coming together to meet with God, and to worship him, and to stand before him, and to listen to him? Is there not this appalling danger that we are just content because we have correct beliefs? And we have lost the life, the vital thing, the power, the thing that really makes worship worship, which is in Spirit and truth.”

Wow. We have lost the vital thing. The power. The thing that really makes worship worship. If the Doctor is right, there is only one solution. If we have lost the vital thing, that thing must be recovered. And since the Spirit of God begets the Church, the Spirit of God must breathe life into her. And we the Church must be mindful, in return, to not quench the Spirit. Only He can make worship worship.

“Father in heaven,
Search us now. Reveal to us by Thy Spirit any smug contentment, any self-satisfaction, any resistance to be searched by your Word, the Sword, double-edged, able to do all that for which you send it. Create in us a yearning expectation of your presence with your gathered people. And lead us in the paths of righteousness. Drench us with thy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.”

Towards Evangelical Revival: Part 1

Speaking of things which hinder revival in the church, Martyn Lloyd-Jones includes dead orthodoxy. He writes:

“Certainly it [dead orthodoxy] is the greatest danger confronting many of us at the present time. It is the greatest danger confronting the individual who is evangelical in his outlook, as it is indeed the greatest danger confronting any individual church or groups of churches, that can be described as evangelical. It is an appalling thought but it is nonetheless true, that there is such a thing as dead orthodoxy” (Revival, p.68).

So, what exactly is this dead orthodoxy? MLJ describes it for us in his customary, expository, simply brilliant, descriptive manner. He begins by saying it is an attitude. He calls it a “smug contentment.” This is the state of those who know the truth, believe the truth, and have all their doctrinal ducks lined up in a row, so to speak. Were these folks questioned on any point of doctrine, especially concerning what is often referred to as the essentials, they always give the right answer. And they are self-satisfied in their orthodox position. Of course, right answers are needful. Orthodoxy is a necessity. We must know sound doctrine. It is right to be right! But this attitude, this smug contentment, destroys the fragrance if not our usefulness! “Now,” says MLJ, “it is the attitude that we see so perfectly illustrated … in the friends of Job. Oh, all they said was right, but it was no use to poor Job, indeed, it was making his condition worse. And what he objected to them was this very smug contentment which I am trying to describe.” If only Job’s friends truly loved the one they were so quick to counsel! Then what? As it was, after week one they no doubt were ‘clanging cymbals’ in the ears of the one suffering so much misery and pain.

Lloyd-Jones continues, pointing out to us that this smug contentment shows itself in a defensive posture. Apologetics, defending the position, becomes the main thing. In other words, dead orthodoxy lives to simply maintain its creed. Now, get this. Though dead, the “Doctor” as he was often called, still speaks! With reference to the prophet Amos and those who were “at ease in Zion,” MLJ links this defensive posture with this ease. It’s an ease which manifests itself in those who are only interested in enough religion, or enough truth, or enough orthodoxy, to make them feel safe. Death, or what happens after death, is their concern, not God. Not really. They have no real desire for Him. Mining the depths of God’s Word in all its glorious, inexhaustible riches, basking in the Son, beholding His radiant splendour even as mercy and grace kissed wrath and justice on the cross, holds not their hearts! No. They have enough to feel secure. And that is all they need. The Doctor calls this dead orthodoxy. It is smug contentment, at ease in Zion. Oh, that we not be guilty of this!

MLJ doesn’t stop here. But we will for today. However, the question may need to be answered: Why do I begin a series such as this? Well, it’s quite simple really. After growing up within the ranks of evangelicalism and having pastored two churches over a 15 year period, I know what many of you know. I know, from both pew and pulpit, the local church is not all she’s cracked up to be. Allow me to say what many, if not all of you, are thinking or have thought in the past: churches are so often, to put it bluntly, deadly, if not disappointing, places. Doubtlessly, there are countless reasons for that. But I think we can, with the help of men like MLJ, identify some basic ones. Why we should do this, indeed the reason I do this is again simple: the church, the local church, matters a great deal to God. And I long for the church to be all it’s called to be. But as every good physician knows, identifying the problem, a correct diagnosis, is the first step towards vitality.

For you because of Him,
Todd Braye