Howard Ball, an evangelism trainer for Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1970′s, used to say, “Sometimes people remark that living a faithful Christian life is difficult. That’s not true at all. It’s not difficult– it’s humanly impossible.”
Happily, we are not consigned to live our Christian lives in our own strength. Certainly, there are plenty of people who try. That’s better than not even trying to conform to the principles of the Kingdom, but it is frustrating and exhausting to try to live religiously without the power of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, even when we are open to Him working in us and through us supernaturally, we are not always aware of how He is doing it. Our intellect alone is not sufficient to perceive the genuine leading of the Spirit. Surely our five senses are inadequate for that discernment. Taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight are insufficient to discern when God is doing something and when He is not.
In many ways the big issues are a lot easier for us than they were for the church in the early years after the resurrection. They knew for certain that Jesus had rocked their world, but they didn’t know exactly how He had done it. It was obvious that He was unique. They knew He worked miracles and that He rose from the dead, but it took years to figure out how God had done it and just Who Jesus actually was.
The early years saw lots of theories and disagreements. It took centuries to sort things out. It even took a long time to figure out which literature was actually “The Word of God” and which wasn’t. Over time, there was more and more clarity. After three centuries, a confident consensus was reached about Scripture and truth. Not about every truth, but there was clarity about which things could not be rejected without losing confidence in salvation. It’s not that we want to troll around for opportunities to declare people apostates, but when people are living, teaching, believing, and proclaiming things that violate creedal faith, we no longer have the joy of assuring them of salvation.
It’s not necessary for a person to understand and accept every element of creedal faith in order to inherit eternal life (e.g., the thief on the Cross), but if any element of the Creed is rejected, it would be utterly wrong to assure people that they were inheritors of eternal life. That is one of the most utterly odious things about the false teaching that has infected so much of the Western church. Not only are they navigating away from the Cross, they core message is assurance of God’s acceptance of behaviors and beliefs when it’s not the truth. That’s similar (but worse!) than an engineer signing off on a bridge saying it is safe when it isn’t. Or an impostor dressed as a pilot taking off with passengers in a plane he doesn’t know how to fly.
We can have confidence in Who God is and what He calls us to do. We can know the Truth and be set free. We can encounter the river of abundant joy that is the love of the Father, the life of Jesus Christ, and transformation of the Holy Spirit. What is amazing is that we can do that and also find resonance with saints who lived a thousand years ago or ten thousand miles away. We can actually be united in powerful fellowship with those who have been several cultures, languages, or continents removed from us. The unity we find in shared life in Jesus Christ is stunning. I find people all the time in rural Kenya, the Andes Mountains of South America, the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda or on the shores of Lake Malawi that have experienced essentially the same thing that revolutionized my life in 1972. That is wonderful, but it is also amazing!
Some of the people who are leading the charge away from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ are just relying on their intellect to figure everything out. Others are motivated by their feelings. The problem is that without the external plumb line of Holy Scripture and the illumination of the faith of the Church, people will get things wrong. How sad and how arrogant for anyone to think that they don’t need other people or any outside source to inform and moderate their own thoughts and feelings. We need the Communion of Saints. We need the Bible. We need the wisdom of centuries of applying Christian teaching informed by the way that the Church has understood the faith.