Seeking a Direction
Chapter 1 of In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason
There is a widespread and growing interest in the spiritual in the world today. Perhaps this is because so many people have known the pleasures affluence can bring, and have worked past an all-consuming desire for material things. And having lived through the sexual revolution, many people know how empty sensual satisfaction can be of itself, when divorced from deeper meaning in their lives. Experience of these things tells people that the pleasure they bring isn’t the ultimate joy they are looking for — that there must be something more. So people everywhere are looking to add a spiritual dimension to their lives, sensing that this is where the ultimate in happiness, joy and meaning will be found.
In this situation one would think people would be flocking to churches in their millions to find that “peace of God which passeth all understanding.” But most new spiritual seekers are not coming to the Christian church — they are going to Eastern religions or New Age organizations. Why? There is widespread concern about this in the churches. The question comes up again and again: “When are we going to have revival in the West? It’s happening in Third World countries, but not here.” One line of speculation is that our rationalistic education is a hindrance to the spirit, as it causes people to think too much, rather than having a simple “childlike” faith. Is it as simple as this, or are there more complex reasons?
This book will look at some of the reasons people who have chosen alternate spiritual paths give for why the church is unable to meet their needs. And it will analyze these criticisms in the light of the Bible, and of a study of church history, to see to what extent they are valid, and what can be learned from them. If the church could change in some ways to meet the objections of the disaffected, and at the same time become more like the original church of the Book of Acts, and be more in tune with Jesus’ teachings, wouldn’t this be beneficial? I believe there are areas of doctrine and attitude in the church which could be examined with this in mind. Many Christians may not immediately and wholeheartedly embrace this view, but I do hope this book will at least stimulate thought and discussion within the church. I also hope it will give some of those who have belonged to the church, but have become disillusioned and left it, some further insight into how the church has let them down, and into how a reformed church may once again meet their spiritual needs.
It will help to approach this book with an open mind, because — I give warning in advance — many of the attitudes and beliefs discussed are ones most people in the church take for granted, are comfortable with, and may even revere. I will not be sentimental about any of our hallowed “traditions of men,” unless they can also be proven, from Biblical evidence, to be “commands of God.” (Mark 7:8) If a traditional belief is obstructing the church and people’s lives, and has no sound foundation in Scripture, what reason is there for keeping it? Should we continue to let such beliefs eat away at the church like cancers, pretending there’s no problem with them? I am suggesting that if a lot of people are saying there is a problem, we should carefully and objectively examine what they have to say, and not just reject their suggestions out of hand. We can benefit by asking ourselves which of our beliefs are a genuine part of our faith, and which are just prejudices. However, I believe the Bible should remain our touchstone throughout, and I will not be entertaining ideas which are out of tune with it. I will feel free, though, to adopt new interpretations of the Bible, where they can be shown to be superior to the old. I don’t accept the traditional criticism of Christianity that its shortcomings are a result of it being based on a flawed Bible. After much study of the Bible, and the scholarship surrounding it, I believe the Bible is an inspired Scripture, capable of being the basis for a truly vital religion, meeting the spiritual needs of our time. Rather, I will be proposing that the main problem with much of Christianity is that it is not, as it claims to be, properly based on the Bible at all, and that the time has come to rectify this.
I will not be concentrating on the policies and doctrines of particular denominations, though they may come up, but rather on attitudes and practices which are prevalent in many parts of the church. Churches are made up of individual people, and ultimately it is their attitudes, beliefs and actions that are important. My purpose is not to tear down the church, but to build it up. I love Christianity, and wish to see it prosper and become the life blood of people around the world.
Although much of this book is devoted to examining some of the beliefs and practices of the church which are out of tune with the Bible, and proposing alternatives to them, it will start with a number of chapters of Bible and church history, in order to give an insight into how the church’s modern body of doctrine was formed. This is important, as much of what has come into question in the church is doctrine, and the historical context of the introduction of a doctrine can be a significant factor in its validity. If it can be shown, for instance, that a particular doctrine was introduced in a climate where the church was seeking to expand its political power, that the doctrine would have helped this quest for power, and that it is a distortion of what the Bible actually says, this would seem to be good grounds for abandoning it.
Another reason for looking into the church’s past is that it is much easier to understand the problems of the modern church if they can be seen in the light of its history. It also gives us an opportunity to examine the way the Bible relates history, and to learn from it something about how to validly interpret the Bible. Points of history could just have been mentioned within the chapters examining the church’s current problems. History is, however, a chain of cause and effect, and cannot be convincing when presented in too piecemeal a way. As the great historian Arnold Toynbee said, “…like persons, events and movements and institutions have to be observed on the move through time in order to be comprehended.” This is why the first half of the book is Bible and church history. It is there to provide a solid foundation for a new way of looking at Christianity. The reader is invited to look for the roots of modern problems, and the seeds of possible solutions to them, in this history, and anticipate some of the discussion in the second part of the book.
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