Friday, 28 November 2008

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 3 - Preaching to the QIRE

In chapter 3 of RRC, Clark begins to tackle QIRC’s ugly sister, the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE). Clark defines QIRE as the quest to “experience God apart from the mediation of Word and sacrament”. It is a Pentecostal endeavour to experience an immediate encounter with God.

While confessional Reformed churches would never tolerate Toronto style manifestations or Todd Bentley giving it “Biff, Baff, Bam”, Clark insists that there are evidences of this same spirit creeping into their piety and practice. For example, on page 72 he writes “We tolerate the practice of listening for the ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12, KJV) of God in order to discern the moral will of God. Such an approach to discerning God’s will is quite foreign to the Reformed confession.”

Clark continues, “If someone asks, ‘What is God teaching you these days?’ one has the sense that the expected answer is not to be a summary of this weeks sermon or reflection on the significance of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but an insight derived from a special experience or private revelation.” (p73)

Further evidences he cites are examples of Reformed public worship which resemble more Hillsongs than Geneva.

The reason behind such a state of affairs can be summed up by the Reformed churches embracing of ‘pietism’. Pietism seeks to form a bridge between reformation and revival. Clark contends, “reformation and revival are distinct and largely incompatible models of theology, piety and practice. The Reformation…consistently points the sinner first to the objective divine promises and secondarily to one’s awareness of the Spirit’s presence within. Revivalism however, tends to turn first of all to the subjective.” (p74)

How pietism invaded the churches is a long and complex story. However, Clark implicates some of the chief culprits along the way including D. Martyn Lloyd Jones and Jonathan Edwards. ‘The Doctor’, dissatisfied with the confessional approach to piety, advocated a fusion of Calvinism with Methodism. The logical end of this was the Doctor preaching a Pentecostal doctrine of the Spirit.

Jonathan Edwards on the other hand, while advocating a means of grace piety, let subjectivism become de facto the dominating factor. He embraced measures during the First Great Awakening that Iain Murray would disown in the Second Great Awakening due to the fact that they were practiced by Arminians (p82). Clark is not denying that great things took place during the First Great Awakening but is cautioning against the trajectory on which it took Reformed theology, piety and practice.

In concluding the chapter, Clark calls us back to a theology, piety and practice rooted in the ordained means of grace and measured not by miraculous gifts, but by the fruit of the Spirit.

Man, I wish I’d read this book years ago. After having faith awakened in my heart at 18, I read everything I could lay my grubby mits on. Yet a lot of the reading seemed to feed a nagging suspicion that not all was well.

For instance, I read of Tozer’s approach to piety as wordless worship before the Almighty. During these times, Tozer assured us that the Almighty would speak to us in the stillness (and Jack Deere agreed). So off I went on my wordless prayer times, soaking in the presence of God. After these times I generally felt smashing and relaxed but would be unnerved as I read John Owen on prayer and mortification. They seemed like different approaches. John Owen’s was easier to find in Scripture, but Tozer must be correct too, as surely he was ‘Reformed’?

I also read the Doctor’s book ‘Joy Unspeakable’. He taught me to seek the baptism with the Holy Spirit as, without it, I’d never know the power I needed for evangelism. As I prayed and prayed for ‘the blessing’……nothing happened. For comfort, I’d go back and read his book and find testimonies of great saints who had received 'the sealing'. One testimony spoke of a guy who prayed for it his whole life then got it on his death bead! That was the most depressing story I’d ever heard. What’s the point of getting evangelistic empowerment just as you’re about to croak it? But it must be ok, I reasoned, as the Doctor was ‘Reformed’. I’m now beginning to realise that perhaps he wasn’t.

I love the means of grace based piety and practice. It calls us to look outside of ourselves to objective truth and so roots the emotionally unstable. It calls us to realistic expectations in the Christian life. It calls us not to despise the day of small beginnings. It calls us to seek the Lord and feed on Christ, and not to seek supernatural experiences. It reminds us not to neglect meeting together in favour of ‘personal quiet times’. It shackles the 'fruit police' from declaring a brother or sister 'unsaved' due to some sinful slip up. It calls us to love by looking to the fruits not the gifts. It fuels fear of God by reminding us that an immediate encounter with God would burn us to a crisp and that the only sort of divine presence that sinful creatures can cope with is one mediated by Word and sacrament. Praise God for Reformed theology, piety and practice.

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