Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.”
This has always been the problem with organized religion. Good order and well-considered theology are important, but they can never take the place of a personal relationship with our Creator. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were generally speaking splendid people, yet they resisted Jesus more strongly than any other group, because he challenged their man-made traditions. I’m reminded of the great Passover celebration of Hezekiah, recorded in 2 Chronicles 30, in which people who were not ritually clean participated simply because they had answered the call to return to God. When we shift our attention from God to man-made structures, either physical or social or intellectual, we risk losing it all. The argument over whether the communion elements are actually transformed into the physical flesh and blood of Christ is a good case in point. It actually matters very little, yet it has put divisions into the Church, which the Bible says clearly is indeed the Body of Christ. What irony! When we chase points of theology instead of chasing after God, we put ourselves and others in grave danger. Properly understood, theology is nothing more nor less than knowledge of God, and that is best gained by intimacy with Him. We are so prone to make systems, and they end up standing between people and God instead of leading people to God. We can be both orthodox and dead. God wants a living Bride for His Son!
Seminary was a very mixed bag for me. On the one hand it gave me fellowship with many, both faculty and students, who were sold out to God and were sincere in their love and service toward Him. On the other hand, there was a subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – push to fit into the system, to learn the forms and do them well. My class on preaching was an excellent case in point, where we were graded on how well we made use of commentaries, rather than on how well we heard the Lord and communicated what He was saying. I did learn some useful things in some of my classes, but on the whole I was further from God when I graduated than when I entered. Interestingly, my class on Systematic Theology, often one of the driest of subjects, was a glorious exception. I’m very thankful I had it when I first entered, before I cooled off. As a pastor I am to teach the foundations of our faith faithfully, but that is simply a tool for leading the believers into intimacy with our glorious God and Savior Jesus Christ. They do need knowledge, but until it works into their hearts and is expressed in their lives it is empty. I keep being reminded of my tendency to dump information on people, rather than lead them into understanding and application. That doesn’t cut it. I am to lead by example, both speaking the truth in love and helping people understand how they can apply that truth in their daily lives.
Father, thank You for this strong reminder. I ask for clear guidance for this coming Sunday. Cathy was feeling You were giving her a message for a Sunday sermon, but now doesn’t remember what that was. Whether she speaks or I do, may it be what You want said, expressed in Your way by Your Spirit, so that all who hear may be drawn closer to You indeed, for their blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!