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.”