Friday, March 2, 2012

Modern Deception of Formalism

Having just placed JC Ryles “The True Church” on my blog, I wanted to mention a sermon he preached which influenced my writing a series titled “A Malignant Disease” which I began to post on the 8th December,2010.

A lesson we have not even begun to learn, is that the life of those who are genuinely a functioning part of the Church of which Ryle writes, will never be, and must never expect to be, popular. Mankind, in general, will never praise her, but the very instigator of the true Church, God the Father will.

The problem is that the clear truth of Scripture, and a lifestyle ensuing from that truth, will never popular with the wider population. History will show that they never have been, and never will be, because such lifestyle is the antithesis of that which the world, at large, craves.

Those who truly belong as part of the true church, of which Ryle writes, whether traditional, house church, or whatever arrangement is adopted, will never be satisfied with a practice which is mere form, because it requires a practical outworking ensuing from mind and heart..

On the other hand formalism in a church, is a religion based on form, and will satisfy the majority of mankind, who will vigorously embrace this “ism”, this religion of form, because it is simply that; a form without cost, and little personal effort.

Formalism is nothing more than mere religious philosophy, which, has widely replaced Biblical faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.  It completely satisfies the withered, ignorant conscience. All philosophies can be embraced religiously; for instance, atheism, agnosticism, liberalism.

Formalism  is the unreflective scrupulous adherence to prescribed or traditional external forms imposed by tradition, or, personal comfort with a structure rather than the content which  should be represented.

Spiritually un-awakened  humankind is drawn to a  religion which does not require much cost, or effort, allowing him/her to be a comfortable observer, especially if it leaves the conscience salved, and the heart  untroubled.  I like to call this Christian-ism.

Of course it is even more acceptable if this religion doesn’t confront or interfere with his/her sin .
That’s what formal religion, or Christian-ism, which is erroneously regarded as “Christianity” does. It satisfies those who engage in it.

Formalism indulges the self-righteousness of mankind, and doesn’t expose those hidden places in his heart and conscience, and panders to the hidden Pharisee in all of us.

That’s why mankind is easily persuaded that the way of salvation is a path paved with doing good things, attending religious meetings, and with pious words and attitudes he will accomplish the heavenly goal. Formalism coerces us to believe that the way to peace with God is by our religious effort, and practice.

Formal religion is nothing more than an empty shell!

Unredeemed man practices this religion because it doesn’t trouble his conscience, and requires very little from him. Formalism leads to the wider gate and seems an easier path to heaven (Matt. 7:13).

It is my contention that there are very few, for whom mere outward show of religiosity, of mere formality, is not their practice in the present day?

To quote from my final article on “A Malignant Disease”:

Again, I am in hearty agreement with J.C.Ryle, who says, The person who thinks that there is no formalism in his church, is a very blind and ignorant person. If you love life, beware of formalism. Nothing is "so dangerous" to a man's own soul. Familiarity with the form of religion, while we neglect its reality, has a fearfully deadening effect on the conscience. It brings up by degrees a thick crust of insensibility over the whole inner man.


Andy said...

This is excellently said John. It needs to be said and heard more often. I have attended various bricks & mortar churches over my lifetime, but it's the main reason none of them have 'stuck'. While my heart craves fellowship with REAL Christians, Churchianity in general seems to me like just another worldly INDUSTRY. As much as I'd like to fellowship in person, the most real Christians (the few) I've only managed to find in webland e.g. Yourself and Terry.
Cheers from Andy (I'm in Brisbane too)

Aussie John said...


Thank you for commenting.

You are so right about INDUSTRY!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

This was excellent. So much spoke loudly, but this..."On the other hand formalism in a church, is a religion based on form, and will satisfy the majority of mankind, who will vigorously embrace this “ism”, this religion of form, because it is simply that; a form without cost, and little personal effort."...was outstanding. And, the following two paragraphs...well...the whole thing was exceptional. No use trying to show what I liked about it, I'd have to just repost the whole thing.

Even the first comment nailed it. Good stuff.

Aussie John said...


Thanks for the encouraging comment.

Ryle could see what was happening, so long ago, and was warning about the problem, which was to become a worldwide epidemic.

The last two sermons I ever preached in the formal denominational setting, were on this subject. I couldn't believe my ears when the pastor of the church, refuted, from the pulpit, what I'd been saying the previous two Sundays.

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