This morning I read this 2005 re-post from Internet Monk – a great piece on how assurance is undermined by contemporary evangelical spirituality. Part of the issue is the moralism I was on about in my last post:
Much of evangelical preaching today is focused on moralism of various kinds, constantly pointing the Christian to what he/she ought to be doing. Serious preaching on discipleship often directs the Christian to a variety of duties, ministry needs and pressing obligations for any true follower of Jesus. For sensitive consciences, it can seem that the Christian life is about being a “good” person, doing “good” things in a hurting world, imitating Jesus so others can see Jesus in you.
Many contemporary preachers are busy describing the Christian life as a life where the Christian finds his/her destiny and fulfills his/her dreams. Follow the principles for success and purpose, and experience God’s best for your life. But what if you are failing? Suffering? Constantly falling short? Such emphases can undermine assurance when the Christian is told the outcome of the Christian life is practical, real-world results.
I think the sincere and laudable desire to be “relevant” and give “life-applications” is at the root of much of this moralistic preaching. We want to give people a “so what” point at the end of the sermon, so we end questions like: “What about you? Are you doing your best with [insert sermon topic]?”
The bottom line of many sermons is “you need to do more.” Usually the “more” is about one of three things: personal Bible study, personal prayer life, and witnessing to others. All are important aspects of Christian life, but the problem is that our worship services, and our sermons, are designed to climax at this point of “life application.” It is the point toward which the rest of the service points. So the main thing that we are saying each Sunday is, “we need to be doing this or that,” rather than a proclamation of the victory of Christ. Our spirituality is focused too heavily on our state as Christians, and not enough on the constant re-presentation of the saving acts of God. Making self-examination the foundation will lead us to either despair (if we are honest) or presumption (if we think we really are doing enough!). Our actions, the things we “do” as Christians, come as a grateful response to God’s prior action “for us and for our salvation.” Often times it seems that we are putting the cart before the horse by our strong emphasis on what we should be doing.