Sunday, June 14, 2009

0 William Gurnall Resonating with Recovering the Reformed Confession

Okay, so it's a little anachronistic - but I came across something in my reading of Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor that reminded me distinctly of some of the points Scott Clark is trying to get our post-modern church to listen to in his Recovering the Reformed Confession (RRC), which I am still reading with much delight and edification.

Much of the first half of RRC involves a discussion of what Clark describes as the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience - something one might describe in terms of the desire in our everyday church experience for "wow" moments that are reminiscent of the Great Awakenings. Today's Christians are dissatisfied with the blessings God has given His church through the ordinary means of the preaching of His Holy Word and the Sacraments. The cause of the historic practice of Reformed piety is not helped by today's societal dependence on immediate delivery of visceral satisfactions, whether they be gastronomic, visual or sensual. Everyone wants to "feel" their faith, and to worship with immediate feedback and physical enjoyment. People don't want to sit for 45 minutes and listen to a man plainly exposit the Scriptures. If it doesn't come at them with the "wowza" bam, bam, bam rapidity of Holywood big-budget action dramas, or ESPN's Sports Center, people leave bored and unimpressed. If it doesn't have the postmodern gloss, it isn't seen as useful for their lives. The ordinary means of grace are not seen by so many today as THE means of standing firm in the faith! Yet God has ordained these for just that purpose! Where are people who reject these blessings left when the enemy attacks? What defense against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10) have they? They are as Jerusalem was in Nehemiah's day prior to the rebuilding of the wall: open for conquest, defenseless. And we wonder why the American church is in such a shambles.

All of this is hard to compare to Gurnall's situation in the 17th century, but he faced the same problems of people looking to satisfy their craving for religious experience and equipping in all the wrong places and by all the wrong means. We are no different today. Listen to Gurnall, and see if you can hear him resonate with Clark's ideas. He has been describing the kind of armor necessary for the Christian, as found in Ephesians 6:11 - "the whole armor of God." His first observation (on p. 50 for those following along with my reading) is that the armor used by the Christian for defense against the enemy and for spiritual growth "must be of God's appointment":
"The Christian's armor which he wears must be of divine institution and appointment. The soldier comes into the field with no arms but what his general commands. It is not left to every one's fancy to bring what weapons he please; this will breed confusion. The Christian soldier is bound up to God's order; though the army be on earth, yet the council of war sits in heaven; this duty ye shall do; these means ye shall use. And those who do more, or use other, than God commands, though with some seeming success against sin, shall surely be called to account for this boldness....

God is very precise in this point; he will say to such as invent ways to worship him of their own, coin means to mortify corruption, obtain comfort in their own mint: 'Who hath required this at your hands?'....

And what is the gospel of all this -- for surely God hath an eye in that to our marching to heaven, and our fighting with these cursed spirits and lusts that stand in our way -- but that we should fight lawfully, using those means which we have from his mouth in his Word?" (pp. 50-51, William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor)
So far are we in today's church from considering the mortification of sin as a daily responsibility that some of Gurnall's concerns, I'm sure, would fall flat. However, for those who are in fact concerned with their own sanctification, and walking a Christlike walk in their daily lives, but who desire a "worship experience" that rivals the best of Hollywood entertainment, what recourse have they when they are hit with a debilitating temptation? To what will they resort who do not have a regular diet of clear, plainspoken exposition of God's Holy Word? Will the strains of "Shine, Jesus Shine" help them when they are overtaken by an unmortified lust? Will remembrance of the worship band's awesome riffs in the instrumental break between praise Choruses help them when trying to overcome their fleshly desires? I have grave concerns about the helpfulness of much of today's churchly practices when it comes to the possibility of raising up a new generation of Christians bold to stand forth for Christ in the world we live in today...

When God's ordained means of grace are rejected as old-fashioned and boring, ineffective and irrelevant, the church is in a world of hurt. God promises results, indeed, when His people study His word, when the gospel is purely preached, and the sacraments rightly administered. This is indeed "boring" when compared to the glitzy entertainment provided by many churches today... but where should our desires be? What should be pursued? God-ordained means, or man's playthings?



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