Sunday, June 19, 2016

Wisdom and Signs: Two Characteristics Rampant in Churches

The just shall live by faith.  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.

We live in a faithless world, a world where the Bible isn't enough.  When Jesus comes, will He find faith on the earth?  People would say they live in a world where the evidence is against God, where God has just made it more difficult to believe in Him.  The world says it is justified in unbelief by the lack of evidence.

The Bible says the knowledge exists.  It isn't an intellectual problem, but a volitional one.  Men know God.  They suppress the truth.  They are scoffers, walking after their own lusts, denying the Lord Who bought them.

Scripture is sufficient.  Unless men believe scripture, they won't believe.  It is a wicked and adulterous generation that wants more.

Because the Bible isn't enough for a faithless generation, what do men embrace and pursue instead? The Apostle Paul gives two categories of so-called "evidence" that men elevate above and even with which they replace scripture.  A vast majority of churches seem to be embarrassed that scripture is all they have to buttress, sustain, and support their faith.  They want more or something else that they see as more credible than the Bible.  Those two categories seen everywhere still are "wisdom" and "signs."  You see these two written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1-3, introduced in 1 Corinthians 1:19-22:
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.
What is "wisdom" in the above verses?  A good synonym for today is "evidence."  It is intellectual evidence that people want to "prove" Christianity.  The other one is in v. 22, "a sign," which is a miracle.  There are two categories given by Paul that can be difficult to distinguish from the other. You could group the two into one big category, that being "extrascriptural evidence."

I live in what a lot of people would agree is a very intellectual region of the world.  Our area is full of what some think are very smart people.  Maybe so.  This area really does show you how inadequate 'being smart' is.  Here we've got Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, and the Silicon Valley, the hi-tech capital of the world.  We have google, apple, yahoo, intel, oracle, facebook, twitter, symantec, intuit, salesforce, ebay, netflix, hewlett-packard, pixar, tesla, solarcity, paypal, and many others.  I talk to many "smart" people every week, who know how smart they are.

Smart people won't believe, and they say they won't, because they need more proof.  That is the "wisdom" Paul is talking about.  If you just give them "wisdom," then they'll believe.   This is the "wisdom of this world," to distinguish it from biblical or godly wisdom.  The problem with this proof or wisdom is that they can never get enough of it, really because it isn't a basis of faith, and the bar of evidence keeps rising higher.  This "wisdom of the world" is the currency of an unbeliever.  He justifies his unbelief with it.

The unbeliever who requires "wisdom" is the person who needs more evidence of a young earth.  He presupposes naturalism.  Someone must come along to prove that wrong.  He needs the smoking gun, the proof of God that he requires.  God doesn't give that "wisdom," as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1.  These people won't believe even if you gave them the proof they say that they need.  He also explains that later.  Even if they could believe with that proof, God isn't going to give it to them, because then the proof and the person who convinced them of that proof would receive the glory (read later in chapter 1).

An aspect of the wisdom category is acceptance of multiple positions on almost any and every doctrine and practice.  Churches allow for multiple positions except to a very limited number of essentials or fundamentals, and even those find multiple acceptable definitions.  Pastors use multiple Bibles.  They rely heavily on philosophy, tapping into popular intellectual leaders to turn their sermons into near lectures on par with a good professor at an Ivy League school.  Like Christians compete with the secular world with their own entertainers, they have their thinkers, who can give the world's thinkers a good run for their money. The idea here is that scripture won't sound smart enough, but you can make it sound smarter by associating it with intellectualism.  This will make it acceptable to intellectuals by trying to make the Bible sound smart.  'It obviously needs a lot of help in this way.' Christian intellectualism abounds now as a lure to those who require wisdom.

Signs are the other category, and signs are some kind of special category of supernatural experience. Men in their experience want more than what scripture gives them.  They want God to talk to them directly.  They want a divine healing.  They want a miracle.  The Bible isn't good enough.

Churches can't do miracles.  They aren't providing miracles, so what occurs is that the churches provide fake supernatural experiences, dumbing down the biblical definition of miracle to give people the supernatural experience they covet.  They also give men a feeling that they can interpret as a movement of the Holy Spirit.  They do that with music and the environment that they produce in the meetings of their churches.  Preaching style also can give people the impression that God is moving in some way.  All of these fall under signs.

If I were to get technical in separating the two categories Paul supplies in 1 Corinthians 1, I would call "wisdom," intellectual proof, and call "signs," emotional proof.  "Wisdom" does something to the mind.  In Paul's day, this is what the Greeks required.  They weren't looking for something that would titillate their feelings, but something that would convince them intellectually.  With "signs," you could feel something, have a sensation that would tell you that God was working.  I understand that there is overlap between the two, some occurrences straddling the gap between wisdom and signs. Overall, however, wisdom and signs are extra-scriptural.  They are provided because the Bible just isn't good enough.

The leaders of churches know men seek after wisdom and signs. They don't want to lose people for various carnal reasons, so they supply them to the extent that they will work.  I have called the provision of these carnal weapons, cheating.  You've heard the phrase, "if you aren't cheatin', you aren't winnin'?  If you want your church to succeed, you've got to cheat a little, fudge a little.  Sure, these are not supernatural acts.  These are extra-scriptural, but if you don't want to lose a crowd or if you really want to get a crowd in this era, you've got to have a show or make it really, really smart for the smart crowd.  Men are tempted to do these, and they do to various extents.

The men who use wisdom are clever men.  I hear their strategies everywhere, including among unaffiliated Baptists, the churches with whom our church fellowships.  The Apostle Paul later writes in 2 Corinthians about what they are doing in 4:2:
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
We should just preach the Bible.  People don't like that.  It doesn't succeed.  Professing Christians get discouraged, so these clever men, these ingenious men develop strategies.  This is rampant.  These techniques are dishonest.  They are not straightforward.  God does not get the glory.  These men get the glory.  I see it all over.

Over not that much time, wisdom and signs scorch the earth.  The seed falls on ground ruined by wisdom and signs, and men won't take the Bible any more.  They have been conditioned that it isn't good enough.  The Bible is effective, but this is a type of blindness, to where men won't receive scripture, because they have become desensitized to it by wisdom and signs.

I have criticized men using wisdom and signs.  They become angry.  Why?  It's not because God is not being honored.  It's because they are being questioned.  They don't think they should be questioned.  This is fertile soil for deceit.  They promote wisdom and signs, and when they are questioned, they treat it like you are questioning God.  They are essentially saying that their strategies and techniques, not in the Bible, not derived from the Word of God, are on par with God.  You are as good as attacking God when you attack them.

A major reason the gospel isn't being preached everywhere is because men have lost confidence in the gospel.  Church leaders know it is foolishness to the lost.  They don't want to look foolish before the world at using such a loser work as preaching, so the lost don't get the free offer of the gospel. Churches are too busy catering to wisdom and signs.

1 comment:

Michael G. Reeder said...

Amen, Brother Brandenburg. I believe you have hit the nail right on the head with this assessment.
Thanks,
Mike Reeder