Monday, June 21, 2010

Humble Orthodoxy

An exerpt from "Born After Midnight" by A.W. Tozer written in 1959

Chapter 18--Let's Be Humble About Our Orthodoxy

"Christianity is rarely found pure. Apart from Christ and His inspired apostles probably no believer or company of believers in the history of the world has ever held the truth in total purity.

One great saint believed that the truth is so vast and mighty that no one is capable of taking it all in, and that it requires the whole company of ransomed souls properly to reflect the whole body of revealed truth.

The light has shone upon men and nations, and (God be praised) it has shone with sufficient clarity to enable millions to travel home in its glow; but no believer, however pure his heart or however obedient his life, has ever been able to receive it as it shines from the Throne unmodified by his own mental stuff. As a lump of clay when grasped by the human hand remains clay but cannot escape the imprint of the hand, so the truth of God when grasped by the human mind remains truth but bears upon it the image of the mind that grasps it. Truth cannot enter a passive mind. It must be received into the mind by an active mental response, and the act of receiving it tends to alter it to a greater or less degree.

As the sun’s rays are bent when passing through a prism, so has the light of God been bent when passing through the hearts of men. Sin, temperament, prejudice, early education, cultural influences, prevailing vogues: all have worked to throw the eyes of the heart out of focus and distort the inward vision.

Of course I refer here to theological and religious truth. How pure this truth is in any place at any given time is revealed by the moral standards of those who hold the truth and by religious practices among the churches generally. Spiritual truth (by which I mean the disclosures of the Holy Spirit to the human spirit) is always the same. The Spirit always says the same thing to whomsoever He speaks and altogether without regard to passing doctrinal emphases or theological vogues. He flashes the beauty of Christ upon the wondering heart, and the awed spirit receives it with a minimum of interference. Wesley and Watts were worlds apart in their theology, but they could and did love and sing the same hymns of pure worship and adoration. The Spirit united them to worship even though their respective views of truth separated them doctrinally.

Each age has interpreted Christianity after its own fashion. The religion of the barnstorming American revivalists of the nineteenth century was certainly something different from that of Luther or the medieval mystics or the apostolic fathers. The bishops who met at Nicea in the fourth century to defend the faith of Christ from the attack of the Arians surely differed radically from the scholars and saints who stood to defend that same faith from the attack of the higher critics in the early twentieth century.

Theology has a tendency to run to modes just as does philosophy. The Christian teachers of the Middle Ages bore down hard upon the vanity of life and the innate wickedness of the body.  In the early days of America the prevailing doctrine was hell, and the popular preachers of those times revealed more details about that terrible place than were known to the inspired writers of the Scriptures. In more recent times it was discovered again that God is love, and the love of God for mankind became the chief theme of sermons and song throughout the evangelical world.

Right now we are in another period of transition, and blessed is the man that knows where we are going. Whatever direction the theological wind may set there are two things of which we may be certain: One is that God will not leave Himself without a witness. There will always be some who hold the creed of Christ, the inspired outline of Christian doctrine. Saving truth will never be completely hidden from the sight of men. The poor in spirit, the penitent, will always find Christ close at hand ready to save them. The other is that the Holy Spirit is the true conservator of orthodoxy and will invariably say the same thing to meek and trusting souls. Illuminated hearts are sure to agree at the point where the light falls.

Our only real danger is that we may grieve the blessed Spirit into silence and so be left to the mercy of our intellects. Then we shall have Christian scholars in abundance but we’ll be short on adoring saints. We’ll have defenders of the faith who can overawe their opponents with their logic and their learning, but well be without prophets and mystics and hymnists. Well have the bush, pruned and trimmed and properly cultivated, but in the bush there will be no fire.

Truth is forever the same, but modes and emphases and interpretations vary. It is a cheering thought that Christ can adapt Himself to any race or age or people. He will give life and light to any man or woman anywhere in the world regardless of doctrinal emphasis or prevailing religious customs, provided that man or woman takes Him as He is and trusts Him without reservation. The Spirit never bears witness to an argument about Christ, but He never fails to witness to a proclamation of Christ crucified, dead and buried, and now ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high.

The conclusion of the matter is that we should not assume that we have all the truth and that we are mistaken in nothing. Rather we should kneel in adoration before the pierced feet of Him who is the Truth and honor Him by humble obedience to His words."  A.W. Tozer

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