Evangelical Fear: Recovering our Faith in Justification by Faith

This series of posts is a reflection on a lack of innovation in the evangelical church.  A reflection which has led me to the uncomfortable thought that we lack innovation not because it is not needed but because we fear it!   The presence of fear, in this context, reveals the absence of faith.  Not the type of faith which means you know the right answers but the type of faith that means you shape your life, desires and ambitions around the right answers.  It is a faith that informs the head, warms the heart and moves the feet.

In the last post I suggested we needed to recover our faith in the sovereignty of God.  In this post I want to suggest that a recovery of our faith in justification by faith will lead to more risk-taking and greater innovation for the church.

Many of us shy away from risk or innovation because we are averse to the consequences.  If we fail – are we a failure?  If we succeed are we a heretic?  If we try something new are we a trouble-maker?  If we don’t follow the same path as everyone else are we arrogant?

For many of us we doggedly hold to the doctrine of justification by faith as that which will save us on the last day but we do not apply this great truth to today (Tim Chester).  Instead we desperately look to our ministry effectiveness, church size, busyness of ministry, recognition by our peers, methodological orthodoxy or church attendance to make us feel significant, important or justified to others or most often to ourselves.

We need to hear Jesus say “It is finished!” BEFORE we begin our work, our ministry or get up in the morning.  There is no longer any need to prove yourself, outperform anyone else or justify ourself.  You are a beloved child of the Most High God- and nothing can change that.  Even if it were possible for you to mess it all up and fail every time – “It is finished!” you cannot change your status before God, cannot un-justify yourself, cannot make God love you more or less through your achievements or lack thereof.  This is, in part, what it means to live as one whose heart is captured by justification by faith and the cross of Christ.

If my reputation is secure…

  • Perhaps it is not necessary to have a thriving youth ministry to be a successful church.
  • Perhaps the mark of a growing church is not adding a 2nd or 3rd service.
  • Perhaps you don’t need that university recognised theological degree to be legit.
  • Perhaps it is not the books you read or the committees you sit on or your seating capacity of your church.
  • Perhaps it is not even necessary to be a self-sustaining church?

If it is the gospel that has captured our hearts rather than the “worship of the bitch-goddess success” (William James– love that turn of phrase) then might we see more Homeless Pastors (as in pastors to the homeless not domicile-ly challenged pastors).  Or what about releasing some of your key people to go and live among the “night people” of our city (i.e. probably not going to make Sunday morning)- chefs, waiters, street vendors and pimps.  Walk the streets, meet them for a drink when they get off shift at 2pm, find ways to bless the homeless sleeping rough, attend late night gigs, befriend car guards, bouncers and taxi drivers.  This probably won’t grow your church, nor will you be recognised or even liked honoured for releasing people to do this.

Reaching out to those who are far from the church – the broken, messed-up, sinful, angry and disinterested will get messy.  You will lose control, credibility, comfort and conformity. It will not be a job that can be quantified in office hours, job descriptions or five-year plans.  It will be confusing, full of dead ends and about turns.  It will test your wisdom, your creativity and your credibility.  It will not be pretty, nor glamorous and probably not anything that could look legit or successful.  This will break your idealism and your heart, drive you to cynicism, alcohol or prayer.

Only one who daily rests in Christ’s finished work on their behalf will be able to stay the course in this vocation.

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