Bible People with Anorexia
Dr Martin J. Bragger
Sometime during the last decade of the first century AD, the apostle John, a Roman slave on the Greek island of Patmos, was given the vision and words to write the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. A section of that book contains a series of letters that are Jesus critiques of seven then existing Christian congregations around Asia Minor. In Revelation 3:14-22 we read Jesus words to the church in Laodicea, a church the members of which seem quite satisfied with its life and material comfort. Indeed, the former principle of Ridley Theological College Melbourne, Leon Morris describes it as-
“A church in an affluent society”, one much like ours. . a church that has
lost its passion for Christ, . professing Christianity but “untouched by its fire”.
It is a church Jesus accuses of being lukewarm and is colourfully described by Bishop Paul Barnett-
“as mediocre, as lukewarm and vomit inducing as the water from the hot springs in nearby Hierapolis.”
To the Laodicean congregation Jesus gives a warning-“I will spit you out of my mouth”, implying that He will close the church down. Despite their comfortable affluence they needed to realize their pitiful spiritual poverty and repent and start to focus on what is rich in God’s sight, before it is too late. This lukewarm-ness, this lack of passion for the things of God, this self-centredness and self satisfied contentment in a comfortable stagnated church life would also seem to be a common characteristic of many church members today.
The current situation in the Australian church is the result of a process. In the years immediately following the second world war churches largely had strong attendance levels, however from then onwards a steady decline took place. In the 1950’s and 60’s Sunday schools were full, but these were increasingly children from ‘church sending’ families as nominalism set in and parents decided to stay home Sundays, attending infrequently or only at Christmas and Easter. The next generation even stopped doing that and Sunday school attendances dropped off until we have arrived at the critical situation now of many churches without a significant children’s ministry and few if any youth. Initially, this was seen by many as a positive trend, in that the loss of the perceived ‘nominals’ was expected to produce a leaner but healthier church. However that seems to have been a false dawn for the church is not so healthy today, indeed many churches have replaced the ‘occasional’ nominals by another form of ‘nominality’, what I will call ‘Bible People with Anorexia’. By that I mean church members who place great importance on the Bible, expository sermons and Bible study but who are nevertheless spiritually shriveled and immature.
Anorexic Bible People may well be regular attendees who have received years of what is often called “good Bible teaching”, however, the result of this so often seems to be a Biblical ‘Fatness’ (in knowledge) paralleled with a ‘Thinness’ of spiritual depth and maturity. Such are marked by a ready willingness to be taught more about Christ (through sermons, Bible studies, attending conferences etc) but with corresponding ‘Laodicean’ lukewarm-ness, a lack of real passion for Christ, and an absence of real desire to lead truly sacrificial lives for the sake of the gospel. The great puritan pastor Richard Baxter reminds us this is not a new phenomenon when he wrote-
“though some are never weary of hearing sermons or reading
(the Bible) they yet have starved souls”.
The problem is that “starved souls” do not have a passion for mission.
Charles Spurgeon the great Baptist preacher, also evidently knew of the problem of this spiritual anorexia when he said –
“ . . much reading about him, much talking about him but too little
feeding on his flesh, and drinking his blood-these are the causes of
tottering professions and baseless hopes”.
The phenomenon of Biblically fat spiritual anorexics is a serious threat to the mission of the gospel, for it is knowledge without the Spirit setting the heart on fire for Christ, indeed it results in the church of St. Lukewarms. Such a phenomenon produces a form of passionless, cerebral, cold Christianity (if it can be called Christianity at all) that, while it may pay lip-service to it, will not be passionate about mission, or show any anguished concern for the terrible destiny faced by the lost around us. To put it another way, Biblically ‘fat’ anorexics may know a great deal of what the Bible says about hell, but do not feel the terror or smell the awful stench of it.
The question to be answered, and urgently, is why does so much Biblical knowledge produce so few hearts enfired for God, without which the mission is lost. Why is the Word of God, as taught to and received in congregations, not acting as “a double-edged sword…judging the thoughts and attitudes of the hearts”, i.e. carrying out spiritual ‘heart surgery’ on the hearts of congregational members (Hebrews 4:12); why are there so many ‘starved souls’? This phenomenon (seen also in the heart-hardened Pharisees Jesus entangled with) of Biblically knowledgeable but “starved souls” we will fail to address at great peril to the future of the Australian church. Indeed, as we look out over Australian congregations, the lament of J. C. Ryle in a sermon to his congregation comes to mind-
“But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of ‘going to heaven’ when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith, and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honour here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. . . . . . . Oh, repent and change before it is too late!”
Or the words of the evangelist D.L. Moody-
“How many are there in the church today who have been members for fifteen or twenty years, but have never done a solitary thing for Jesus Christ? They cannot lay their hands upon one solitary soul who has been blessed through their influence; they cannot point today to one single person who has ever been lifted up (to heaven) by them.”
It seems that even after many years of good Bible teaching the result, certainly not for all, but for a significant number in our churches seems to be a spiritual anorexia, a form of ‘Christianity’ characterized by a lukewarm, un-transformed life lacking in a sacrificial, self denying passion for the mission of the gospel. Where there are many such members in a congregation it certainly will not produce the church that is able to mount the spiritual rescue mission that Australia so desperately needs.
This issue impacts not only the future of the church but the soul of the nation.
It is therefore something we should seriously and prayerfully examine, both in terms of our own spiritual health (could it be that we are biblically fat but spiritually thin) and that of our congregation, for the sake of the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ in this land.