Piles of Wood or Fires

It has been said that ‘A pile of wood isn’t a fire if there are no flames’, and a theological expression of this was made by the famous Swiss theologian Emil Brunner who said that-

 “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning.

So it is true, although many would like to ignore the fact, that no matter how many Christians gather together, a few or thousands, there is no church if there is no mission. As an article from the Northern Seminary in America reminds us ‘Jesus did not bring twelve disciples around him for protection, or for pleasant company, or because he liked having followers. Following him was fundamental, but he also had a purpose for them, and that purpose was mission to the world.’

The relevance of this to our times in the West is that, while there are many ‘churches’ it seems a great many are really only ‘piles of wood’, not fires. It hasn’t always been so. The Apostle Paul when writing to the congregation in Rome said to them-

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world’

Here is a Christian fellowship that is clearly so ‘on fire’ that the effect of their ministry is observed and has an effect far beyond their own community. Could that be said I wonder of our Christian fellowship?

St Lukewarms

Jesus warns the Laodicean congregation that “I will spit you out of my mouth”, implying that He will close the church down. Despite their 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 lack of fire; this Lukewarm-ness; this lack of passion for the things of God; this self-centredness and self-satisfied contentment in a comfortable but stagnated church life would quite frankly seem to be a common and so sad characteristic of a large proportion of church members today. This is often true of even those in large and perceived to be ‘successful’ ones.

Fundamentally, and with great relevance for our mission, there are large numbers of church members who, even though they might place great importance on expository sermons and bible study, and are regular service attenders, yet they are spiritually anorexic, and “untouched by its (the Gospel’s) fire”. This Laodicean Syndromeis evidenced by a general lukewarm-ness and apathy to Jesus’ core missional demand to “Go and make disciples”.

Fundamentally, and with great relevance for our mission, there are large numbers of church members who, even though they might place great importance on expository sermons and bible study, and are regular service attenders, yet they are spiritually anorexic, and “untouched by its (the Gospel’s) fire”. This Laodicean Syndromeis evidenced by a general lukewarm-ness and apathy to Jesus’ core missional demand to “Go and make disciples”.

Such church members are often regular attendees who have received years, often decades of, bible teaching. However, the result of this so often seems to be a spiritual anorexia marked by a ready willingness to be taught more about Christ (through sermons, bible studies, attending conferences etc) but with a corresponding lukewarm-ness, a lack of real passion for Christ. This is characterized by an absence of real desire and willingness to lead the truly sacrificial lives required for the demands of mission to our increasingly 21st century culture.  We are reminded that a combination of increasing biblical knowledge and spiritual anorexia is not a new phenomenon by the great puritan pastor Richard Baxter who wrote-

“Though some are never weary of hearing sermons or reading

(the bible) they yet have starved souls”.

It would seem that our congregations contain many such “starved souls”, who regularly assemble as sticks on the Sunday wood pile but without any Spirit-driven fire for mission. In fact attend most weekly gatherings and ‘Fire’ is not the first word that usually comes to mind!

                                                      ******

If Emil Brunner is right, one factor of the now decades old missional failure of western churches is an absence of Fire, because large numbers of such churches fall into the category of being just piles of wood where there are no flames.

For the sake of the mission of the Gospel, it is important therefore that Christians regularly ask diagnostic questions as to the health of the congregation or fellowship they belong to. Some such questions relevant to this article that should be asked are-

Can we say that our Christian fellowship (whether a traditional congregation, house church or something else) is truly on fire for the Gospel, or is it really just a pile of wood? Is our faith being reported widely in the community? Are we more like St. Lukewarms, the church in Laodicea, or do we more reflect the church in Rome praised by Paul?

Then such Christian fellowships, after honestly asking and answering those questions, should not be like the ‘man who looked at his face in a mirror and then went away forgetting what he has seen’ , but take strong, almost certainly very painful and costly decisions to make the changes to their view and practice of Church and Mission that is most certainly required.

No matter what new missional strategies are developed, the above will not happen unless and until driven by Christians who are not part of a Sunday woodpile but enflamed by the Spirit to put Jesus’ sacrificial demands for discipleship as the first priority in their lives. The widespread prevalence of lukewarm ‘Sunday Woodpiles’ rather than ‘Fires’ is one of the issues that is a major roadblock on the missional journey, yet one that is little addressed. It is sheer wishful thinking to believe our mission to society can be revitalized unless that is changed.

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