I Don’t Want to Be Just As I Am

Sometimes I miss the pentecostal tradition. I miss the fire and enthusiasm. But most importantly I miss the theology that God changes us. I miss the belief and practice that when we encounter the Holy Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit we are not the same person we were when we walked in the door. I miss the testimonies of lives being radically changed. I miss worshipping and celebrating the God who heals.

I say this because I’m finding myself growing frustrated with the theology I am seeing in North American Christianity. It’s the “Just As I Am” theology. Yes it is true that we can come to God just as we are, and but “Just As I Am” theology goes a step farther and advocates that we stay just the way we are.

This theology makes us dictate what God can and can’t do.

It makes us the boss over God. Here I am God, capsule just as I am, I like it, you can’t change me, you just have to accept me as I am, because I am fine the way I am, and You love me just the way I am.

We not only tell the Church (pastors, elders, official church teaching) that they can’t tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re broken, (who are you to judge? we tell them), but we also tell God that He can’t tell us we’re wrong, we’re broken.

Where does this come from? Does it come from our doctrine of making a decision for Christ? Do you believe? Say this prayer, say these words. Now you’re in. That’s all that matters. It’s a head thing, and an emotional heart thing. But it’s not a life-changing thing.

Does it come from an overemphasis on justification by faith? We are justified by faith, Jesus’ blood covers over us but doesn’t change us, because what matters is that his blood just covers. We are sinners, we always will be sinners, now we’re just justified sinners.

Where is our doctrine of sanctification? Where are our celebrations of how God has changed us, how he is still changing us, and how he will change us? Where is our proclamation that the Holy Spirit indwells us, that the new is come, the old has passed away? Where is our robust doctrine of baptism, that proclaims that through the waters of baptism we have died to our old selves, died to sin, and are raised to new life through Christ?

What happens when we say to God, come in and do what you need to do? Will it hurt? Probably. Will it be a struggle? Sure. But by not opening ourselves to God’s cleansing fire we’re also missing out on the incredible blessing, the incredible intimacy that comes from the Holy Spirit washing us through and through.

I remember who I was and what I was like before Jesus got a hold of my life. I don’t want that. If I had said “Just as I am and you can’t change me” to him 16 years ago, two things are certain: One, I’d be a very different person today. And two, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the Church, I wouldn’t have stayed a Christian. I am a Christian because I am a new creation. I am a Christian because the God of the Universe loved me so much to not leave me “just as I am.” And he continues to love me and not leave me “just as I am.”

God heals.

God transforms.

God renews.

I don’t want to be just as I am.

 

This post was originally written March 21, 2012.

 

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Sanctification in a post-Modern, post-Doctrine, post-Everything Church

It started in college with a random story the professor of Pastoral Theology told to get us to think about the “benefits” of moving the church to a seeker-sensitive model. One of the elders in his church got up to read a psalm as part of the call to worship. He read the psalm clearly and with energy so as to invite the congregation to enter into worship. After the service the pastor, medicine the one who was now teaching our class, generic took the elder aside and gently chastised him for his choice of reading. Perhaps next time he could choose a more appropriate psalm, viagra the pastor counseled. The elder looked at him and finally asked why that psalm was inappropriate.

“The psalm talks about the blowing of the shofar,” the pastor explained, “and no one in the congregation knows what a shofar is. It would be better to choose a reading that the congregation would understand; one that was relevant to the current age and culture.”

The entire class stared at the professor in disbelief. Finally one student, a dear friend of mine who, in a later class would be criticized because his sermons relied to heavily on the Bible and did not have enough personal stories in them, spoke up. “You mean to say that it is better to not read a portion of Scripture because the congregation would not understand one small word in it?”

The professor nodded. “We have to make the service relevant, especially to those who are new to the church,” he explained.

“So, why not just explain what a shofar is right after the reading, or during the sermon, or why not put it in the bulletin? Would that not be better than excluding a portion of Scripture?” A chorus of “amens” arose from the class in support, and the professor was left speechless. It was obvious that that had never crossed his mind.

That incident, and the fact that the professor’s idea of a textbook was copying articles out of leadership magazines, cemented Pastoral Theology as my least favourite class. But, there was a positive outcome. It was because of that shofar story that I began my quest to solidify my personal philosophy of ministry.

Several years later, I was working in a church from the Wesleyan tradition and I began to notice that there was no preaching, teaching or discipling on the doctrine and practice of sanctification, which was extremely odd given that one of the doctrinal distinctives of the denomination was an affirmation of the doctrine of entire sanctification. Finally I asked the pastor. And his answer was eerily similar to the professor’s reaction years earlier. We have to make our services and our theology culturally relevant.

What is it about sanctification that has fallen out of favour? Not only is there the “culturally relevant” excuse, there seems to be two major trends: On the one hand you have neo-Reformed types who seem to have conflated salvation and sanctification and thus advocate for a monergistic doctrine of sanctification: it is something that God alone does. On the other hand you have Wesleyan (and Pentecostal) types who are carrying war wounds from the misuse of the doctrine of entire sanctification (and the baptism of the Holy Spirit) over the last 60 years as it was used as a weapon of “superiority”.

And yet I find myself drawn to the doctrine of sanctification. What does a sanctified life look like? How do we live in the tension of the “now and not yet” of sanctification? What is God’s role in sanctification? What role do we play in sanctification? And what does that role look like? What terms are associated with sanctification: Perfection? Virtue? Theosis? Is the doctrine of entire sanctification biblical? And most importantly what does the doctrine of sanctification look like in a Post-Modern, Post-Doctrine, Post-Everything Church?

This is my passion, and my the area of research that I hope to continue to pursue throughout my educational career. I’m currently writing a paper on Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of Perfection, and I am loving what he has to say. I’m hoping to do my thesis on sanctification in the theology of Karl Barth. One day I want to look at how Wesleyan and Reformed traditions approach the doctrine of sanctification and suggest that there is actually quite a bit of agreement between the two. And I want to write about how to redeem the doctrine of sanctification after years of abuse and misuse (and here I think Gregory of Nyssa is a great way to begin that process of redemption). My prayer is that the doctrine of sanctification doesn’t get thrown out on the trash heap of “uncool” and “irrelevant” Church traditions in this age of trying to chase what is hip and cool and faddish.

Sunday Meditation


Heavenly Adam, cure life divine, patient
Change my nature into Thine;
Move and spread throughout my soul,
Actuate and fill the whole;
Be it I no longer now
Living in the flesh, but Thou.

Holy Ghost, no more delay;
Come, and in thy temple stay;
Now thine inward witness bear,
Strong, and permanent and clear;
Spring of life, thyself impart,
Rise eternal in my heart.

~Charles Wesley

Amend Your Life

“If the candidate proves to be without fault in these matters the bishop writes down his name; but if someone is accused of anything, nurse he is asked to leave and told: ‘Amend your life and when that is done approach the baptismal font.’” Egeria. (quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God pg 38)

One of the interesting things in reading the Patristic Fathers is seeing how people were accepted into the Early Church. Of note is the idea that the person, having made a confession of faith (having been saved), has to amend their life prior to be being baptized, and baptism is the gateway into full membership into the Church. It is only the baptized who can partake of the Eucharist, for example. And this idea of righting your life is vital.

So not only in the Didache, but also in the writing of Hippolytus (another early source for liturgy of the Church from the first half of the third century), there appears to be a definite process one undergoes before they are baptized. And this time of preparation or catechesis is not mere teaching. It is not merely learning “what” to believe, but also an examination of their life to see if they are living rightly, that is, living the life of a Christian.

And when those who are to receive baptism are chosen, let their life be examined: have they lived good lives when they were catechumans?…From the time that they were set apart, let hands be laid on them daily while they are exorcized…And if anyone is not good or not pure, let him be put aside, because he has not heard the word with faith, for it is impossible that the Alien should hide himself for ever. (Article 20)

This isn’t grounded in legalism, but out of a strong desire to demonstrate that God has indeed transformed sinners, that He has so powerfully worked in their lives; and that the Church is a body of saints, a people who think and act and love so differently from the rest of the world. And so those who desire to join the Church and be baptized are to examine their lives, walk the right path (or as the Didache says, choose the Way of Life), be exorcised from all evil, and fast in preparation for baptism.

The evangelical church gets a bad rap for doing this. “Sinners” can come and visit the church, but they can’t truly become part of the church until they get their stuff together. And when this happens, the church is accused of being judgmental, unloving and unwelcoming. And so, to counter this, the evangelical church adopts “seeker sensitive” models, and open communion because hospitality and a narrow understanding of love (largely defined by a modern notion of tolerance) is now what should define the church.

Ultimately, I think this all leads back to the central question, what is the purpose of Sunday morning worship? Is it merely a gathering, or is it a time for the body of Christ to be joined to Him, to worship Him and to be refreshed and equipped to go out and do the work of grace and love in the world?

…the random reflections on the Patristics continue…

Fall Issue of Journal of Psychology and Christianity

The newest issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity is out (just not available online yet).

Check out the article by Charles Hackney, store “Sanctification as a Source of Theological Guidance in the Construction of a Christian Positive Psychology.” JPC 29 (2010), pg 195-207.