In the congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite where I am a member, we recently had a series of messages from two visiting ministers, one from Idaho the other from Québec. The messages pointed us to the roots of the malaise that has gripped the church for some years now. We call it a drift, but don’t really know what we mean by that. We talk of the ancient landmarks and think things were maybe on a better course in grandpa’s day.
It was suggested to us that the drift may have begun with improving economic times after the depression. That would suggest that the seeds were there earlier, but people did not have the means to allow those seeds to grow. We were told that rather than thinking of returning to things as they were a generation or two ago, we will need to go back to the foundations of the New Testament church as laid by Jesus and the apostles. I am encouraged and believe a genuine revival is coming.
Another concern was Christians who speak of wonderful experiences and a close relationship with God, but their lives show little or no evidence of this, who have no meaningful spiritual fellowship with their Christian brethren and are resistant to spiritual concerns of their brethren. This is pietism.
I have been meditating about some Bible passages where the French translation seems to use a stronger word than the English. Revelation 2:4 says “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” This seems often to be understood in a fairly passive way: “We seem to have parted company somehow, I don’t recall where or when.” In French it says “Thou hast abandoned thy first love.” It was a choice that was made.
James 4:17 says: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This has led to dividing sins into sins of commission or sins of omission, with the sins of omission being considered to be much less serious. In French it says: “He then who knows to do that which is good and who does not do it, commits a sin.” There is no room here to speak of a sin of omission, a choice was made and that choice was sin.
Many verses in the Old Testament speak of backsliding. That also can sound passive: “I wasn’t making much effort to go forward, so without realizing it I began sliding backwards.” There is no corresponding word in French. This piqued my interest and I used my Bible program to check on the Hebrew word that is translated as backsliding. I found that there were three Hebrew words, having slightly different meanings. There are also three words that are used in French in places where we find backslider or backsliding in English. These words are wayward, unfaithful and rebellious. That sounds a lot more serious, doesn’t it?
Really, the problem does not lie in the English words, but in the way that we become accustomed to interpreting them.
The apostle John writes in 1 John 5:17: “All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” The drift in the church is the result of many small decisions, none of which appeared very significant at the time. But they were decisions, or choices, not accidents, and those decisions were sin. None of the individual decisions were death sins, but each one has brought us a little closer to the precipice. If we are going to avoid going over the precipice we will have to start making different choices. We should not expect to have one big experience which will instantly return us to the green pastures and still waters where our Shepherd awaits us. We didn’t get to where we are today like that and we won’t escape the precipice that easily. Each small decision or choice made in obedience to the Shepherd will move us back from the precipice, an inch at a time. This is called sanctification.