Monday, August 16, 2010


continued from last post:

Any group of people, habitually committed to formalistic function will eventually place more importance on formal structures, forms and procedures than on what the group represents.

This evil effectively cuts the third person of the Godhead out of the life of those who claim to be God’s people.

Paul was caused to clearly see that formalism would, at some time, cause greater problems for the church, as we can see from his warning in 2 Timothy 3:5 that a time would come when even God’s own people would have "... a form of godliness but denying its power."

Is not this the situation we find ourselves in today? Is it not true that the church at large, has a such a commitment to traditional form, that instead of evidence of true godliness, "a form of godliness" only, exists?

Even though the numbers are rapidly falling, large numbers of people attend church, read their Bibles, pray, preach, teach, with very little evidence, if any, of real godliness evidenced by their life.

In his letter to the Romans, in 2:28-29, we find Paul dealing with this very issue, when he wrote, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical."……...". No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."

In the context of this article we could paraphrase Paul’s words: “Holding to an outward form or profession does not make Christians.”

Saying one is a Christian, or practicing outward expressions of Christianity doesn’t make one a Christian. A person is only a Christian if they are truly, and radically, changed, and being changed inwardly.

Continual changed towards God, continual changed towards our fellow believers, continual changed towards a lost world. A long time ago, I came to the conclusion that there is no settled place of “having made it” in the genuine Christian life.

Another instance of Paul’s concern on this matter was in his letter to the Colossian Christians, in Col.2:8, See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

We could go on ad infinitum about how the traditions of men has thrust the church into formalism.

More than a century ago, in the late 1800’s, J.C.Ryle, said, “Never since the Lord Jesus Christ left the earth, was there so much formalism and false profession as there is in the present day. Now, more than ever, we ought to examine ourselves, and search our religion, that we may know what sort it really is.”

If that was the case more than 100 years ago, we would be extremely naïve about the state of the church, to deny that his words apply, at least equally, to today.

We would be dishonest not to admit that, as we have developed in knowledge, wealth, and capabilities of science and technology, we have become satisfied with our prowess in these things and so proud and sure of our ability to organise and control, that we have rationalized, into powerless obscurity, the work of God’s Spirit amongst His people.

We merely give lip service to the concept of the Body of Christ, as Paul speaks of it. We need to ask ourselves the question: Is our Christianity a thing of form or a thing of heart?

That’s the point being raised by Paul in the passage we read from in Romans 2:28-29.

God lays down some profound thoughts and principles as He speaks through His Apostle: "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God".

Firstly, mere formal religious practice is not true Christianity, whether the way we practice our faith is old or modern, whether home church, organic church, new or old.

Mere formal practice of one’s Christian faith is not true Christianity in God's sight.

Secondly we see that the heart is the seat of true relationship with God, therefore the true Christian is a Christian in heart, a fact which is revealed in whole of life practice, not in knowledge, position, or profession.

Thirdly, true Christianity can never expect to be popular or peaceful. True Christianity can expect praise from God, but seldom the praise of man.

Even as far back as 1658, a Puritan by the name of Thomas Hall, speaking on 2 Timothy 3:5, said, "Formalism, formalism. Formalism is the great sin of this day, under which the whole country groans. There is less life; more profession, but less holiness."

In 1658, he was describing our day perfectly, if his comment was valid for his day, it is certainly true of ours! Now, more than 300 years later, there is more light than ever, and less life, certainly more profession and less practical outworking of functional ministry of every person claiming to be Christian!

When a person is a Christian in name only, in outward things only, and not in heart and mind, in profession and practice only, his attendance to outward practice of Christianity is a mere matter of habitual form, or fashion, or custom, without heart, and with little influence on their own life, much less on someone who is a disciple. Such a person has a "formalistic religion", not a living faith.

This is what Paul told Timothy would be the case; people possessing, indeed, the "form," or outward show of Christianity, but not possessing substance or "power of the genuine article".

We could use the modern example of the thousands of people who regularly attend public worship services, attend the Lord's Table, but know nothing of true heartfelt Christianity.

People who have no idea of a deep, personal involvement with the Scriptures, and as a result, have no great pleasure and joy in reading them, nor do passages of Scripture bring challenge and angst about the aspects of life that are necessary signs in their lives of the working of the Spirit of God.

In the daily outworking of their lives, they have no idea what it means to separate themselves from worldliness without negating their love for others and opportunities to make disciples, nor are they really interested in such matters.

Formalists often take great pride in holding to a Confession of Faith, but in practice care little or nothing about the distinctive doctrines expressed in it.

As far as what is today called, "attending church", "worship", etc., is concerned, as long as many, maybe most, have fulfilled the outward form of attending church services, doing their allocated tasks, they are basically indifferent to what they hear preached, and leave the church meeting focused on their activities for the rest of the day.

Imagine, if at the end of such a day, if you could make yourself invisible and remain in the presence of the average attendee at church services, for weeks on end, what do you think you would observe?

Would you have reason to believe that the meeting they attended, the message they heard, was meaningful in any way?

Indeed, would your observations give you cause to think they were any different from the unbelievers who surround them?

to be continued


Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I've now read this AND the last post. I can only respond with a couple of personal observations.

One is that in reading I'm aware of hearing the voice of a Prophet.

Two is I'm also hearing the falling tears of a Prophet such as Jeremiah. Thank you for the reality of both.

When you said..."my total absorption in the traditional forms of ministry masked the symptoms.."...I had to admit my own early on sin was precisely exposed...again. My heart still repents.

As always..your words resonate with my spirit and His Spirit speaks truth to me all over again.

Aussie John said...


Thank you

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