Not a Relationship, but a Religion

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Revivalism is actually the religion of magical technique. This religion is an ancient one, but the contemporary American form of it is revivalism.

The purpose of all such religious technique is to control and manipulate the god who serves those adepts who want to worship themselves under cover of worshiping him. Through certain techniques, what they will receive in return for worshiping him is personal salvation, personal affluence and a personal relationship.

The technique itself reveals the essential gnostic flavor of American Christianity. Each person is assumed to have the divine ability to choose that which is good, and is regularly called upon by the evangelist to make that choice. If the one being invited relies on his own heart, and makes the right decision in his own heart, and follows the instructions given to him very carefully, then he will receive what he wants. The instructions given (or techniques) will vary from place to place, but the theology underneath it is remarkably consistent. In one place, it is necessary to go forward at the end of the church meeting. In another place, it is necessary to say the words printed in the back of a tract or booklet. Of course, by God’s grace, a number of people have been genuinely saved under such circumstances. But it must also be said that many others have remained in their sins, clutching their technique.

Whenever men make a religion, with a god at the top of it, they always make a religion that can be manipulated with some ease. In revivalism, the rules are simple. When you know what you want, go forward and get it. From the time of Charles Finney on, many have never questioned such things because they are universally assumed to be scriptural. But are they scriptural?

I am fond of telling people that Christianity is not a relationship, it is a religion. Of course, after having made the point, I hasten to add that it is a covenantal religion with a covenantal relationship at the heart of it. God promises that we will be His people, and He will be our God. But this is not what the religion of revivalism demands. Revivalism demands that there be what is called “a personal relationship.” And of course, we must be careful here. Each believer is a person, created in the image of God, and God has poured out His Spirit into the hearts of believers, causing them to cry out, Abba, Father. In a profound sense, this is a personal relationship. But this is not what revivalism means by “personal relationship.”

In revivalism, this personal relationship is isolated and individualistic. In the orthodox Christian faith, our personal relationship is covenantal and connected. God never establishes Himself as an individual’s Father without simultaneously giving that person countless brothers and sisters. This is another way of saying that there is no salvation outside the Church. Note the difference it makes in the nature of devotion – one emphasizes a personal “quiet time” while the other emphasizes corporate worship.

And this question of the personal relationship relates to the common practice of inviting Jesus into our hearts. Where does the Bible tell us to do this, or where does it show someone doing this? The question “what must I do to be saved?” is asked in Scripture. But the answers we like to provide to that question are not found so easily. We want to tell the Phillipian jailer to ask Jesus into his heart. We want to tell Ethiopian eunuch to respond to the altar call. We want to tell Lydia to sign a card indicating her personal commitment.

This leads naturally to the problem of pseudo-sacraments. Many advocates of revivalism object strongly to practices like infant baptism because they do not see “examples of it from Scripture.” Although I do see paedobaptism taught in Scripture, that is not my point here. My concern is why this objection to baptizing infants arises when there is no objection to taking those same kids to summer youth camp thirteen years later in order to have them all throw pines cones in the fire as a sacramental indicator of their commitment or recommitment? A rejection of God’s sacraments will not give us “no sacraments,” but rather substitute sacraments. And this is what has happened to us. Revivalism has brought in a whole host of substitute sacraments.

If someone were to maintain they were a Christian because their parents brought them down to the front of the church and there had them baptized, many modern evangelicals would be greatly dismayed. You don’t become a Christian because your parents bring you down front to be baptized. You become a Christian when a friend brings you down to the same place in the church building and you sign a little card. In order to be a modern evangelical sacrament, the requirement apparently is that there be no scriptural case for it.

We do this because we are nervous that biblical sacraments night be abused. Of course, this is true. They can be, have been, and will be. Men are sinful and they invent many different ways to ignore what the Bible teaches. But the best thing we can do in response to this sinfulness is to take pains to hear the Scriptures carefully. When men abuse the Word by presumption in their orthodoxy, the response ought not to be presumptive heresy. Always, to the law and the testimony!

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