It is Day 15,047 and I awoke early with an upset stomach. My stomach has been troubled for the past couple of days for some reason, with not like constant sickness but a churning. I intended to take a jog this morning but because I felt weak I ended up just walking for a couple miles. As I went I listened to an old sermon by John Wright Follette, and somewhere he said, “I’m a realist. But I’m spiritual.” He talked about the need for honesty in our relationship with God and that we can’t know the truth apart from knowing Christ, because Jesus said “I AM the truth.” Jesus wasn’t like other teachers in religious traditions who offer some little slice or perspective on the truth: He IS the truth. So to pursue the truth is to pursue Jesus Christ. I too do my best to be a “spiritual realist” and be honest, not judging myself or this world or its situations as they should be, but as they are.
There has been some strife in my family and a couple of other relationships because of my conclusions about Donald Trump. One spirit in particular has been very insistent that Trump’s ascension is directly tied to God’s will for the Church – he has kind of an “Onward Christian Soldiers” mentality that is bound up in the leadership of Trump over our nation. This fellow has drawn his sword against my positions and me personally without telling me how I have gone astray from the truth, even after my repeated requests. I am reminded of Jesus’ words after He was struck by the high priest’s servant: “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” Job told his friends, “Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred.”
I think what a lot of folks who’ve heard me don’t understand is that my foremost concern is not about politics at all, but about the state or condition of the Church. In Follette’s sermon, which was probably recorded in the early 1960s, he mentioned that the Body of Christ had a sickness, like mumps. He was referring to the outwardly emotional expressive displays that were going on in Pentecostal churches and meetings in his day, and even also to people’s reading of the Word, things which appeared very spiritual and “powerful” but did not lead to an enduring awareness or knowledge of Christ. I witnessed and even participated in some of these when I was a child. Perhaps they are a necessary step in our growth in Christ, but if they don’t lead to deeper understanding or fuller outworking in daily life they are inherently worthless. I think that’s what Follette was getting at – that the majority of Christian experience was wrapped up in “externals.”
That got me thinking about how the Church today is different than the Church of forty or fifty years ago. Many of those “swing on the chandelier” holy-roller antics have disappeared from the Church, replaced by mostly passive observation on the part of the congregants. Most congregations have a concert atmosphere, and the “show” is conducted by professionals who have polished their message to be seeker-friendly and inclusive, where no outward expression is required whatsoever. I wonder what Brother Follette would say about the things we see today.
Those dynamics – the forsaking of pursuing truth in real relationship to Christ, the dismissal of God’s Word as a standard, and our watering down the expectations of a real life of faith – directly relates to our thinking, behavior and speech in the world of politics and every other sphere in which we move. Last Sunday I mentioned to my local church that when we don’t listen to God or remember His Word we are in danger of misinterpreting the events of life: we rejoice when we should be weeping and weep when we should rejoice. In this past year, the world of politics is the latest place where this could be plainly observed, just another fruitless branch on a tree that needs pruning. It has been disheartening to watch, but only the revelation of God can bring change. That’s what I’m seeking in my life, in my family, for my church, for the nation and for the world.