Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recovering Piety

Pious or Piety occurs over 350 times in John Calvin's Institutes. For men of this era, the word was held in the highest esteem. Unfortunately, for modern men, almost everything held in such regard by that generation is held in contempt by this one if for no other reason than that generation held it to be so. In modern times the word "piety" has been recast and held in ill-repute no thanks to the foolish souls who have unwittingly swallowed the intellectual poison of postmodern philosophy.
 For to begin with, the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself; furthermore, the mind always exercises the utmost diligence and care not to wander astray, or rashly and boldly to go beyond his will...Because it acknowledges him as Lord and Father, the pious mind also deems it meet and right to observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, take care to advance his glory, and obey his commandments. [Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.ii.2]
 The Christian community is in sore need of a recovery of piety. In the 1560s existed a group of Protestants who thought the reforms of Queen Elizabeth did not go far enough and, they called for a further purification or what moderns might refer to as "additional reforms." These Protestants were intensely focused on the authority of Scripture, the Trinitarian character of theology, the significance and purpose of Christ, the national life present by the crisis of their day, and individual conversion. J.I. Packer says,
Puritanism was an evangelical holiness movement seeking to implement its vision of spiritual renewal, national and personal, in the church, the state, and the home; in education, evangelism, and economics; in individual discipleship and devotion, and in pastoral care and competence. [Beeke & Pederson, Meet the Puritans, xviii.]
The church has talked about the need for reformation on and off for decades now. The problem with this language is that it usually refers to a reform in praxis -or- a reform in doctrine. The trouble with this dichotomy is that you cannot have the former without the latter and you will not get the latter without the former. All too often, reform in doctrine proceeds in the wrong direction. For instance, I read a review of a book on inerrancy recently and one reviewer criticized the author because he considered the author's thesis to be a devotion to "the traditional evangelical view of the sacred cow in evangelicalism." The reviewer demonstrated that he has not grapped with the conseqences of an errant Scripture. An errant Scripture is a non-authoritative Scripture. This makes the Scripture anything but self-attesting. If this is the case, what fills the vacuum created by this lack of epistemic authority? It must be human reason! Ultimately we end up with a subjective approach to truth which is where the non-Christian lives. On these grounds, we are no better off than the ungodly. Indeed, the church is in dire need of recovering pietistic living. By pietistic living, I mean our manner of living, thinking, doing church, how we do philosophy, scholarship, eldership, etc. I mean there is no area in the Christian community and the Christian individual in most modern cultures that is not in serious need of reformation.

Notice that Calvin says a pious mind does not merely dream up a god of its own choosing. Yet, our own projections of god are as corrupted by cultural productions as they have ever been. We see this in the lack of pious living in the Christian community. On the one hand, we have antinomians who presume upon God and abuse His grace daily by not paying any attention to how they live their lives. We divorce at will, without consequence. We shack-up, we lie, cheat, steal, backbite, etc. Pastors do NOT take the sin of their communities seriously in any sense whatever. I recently had a pastor tell me that hate in the congregation was no large matter. He made light of the fact that there were people in his own congregation that hated him. Church discipline has vanished and where it does exist, it is primarily used as a political tool to support the selfish ambition of carnal elders and pastors. On the other hand, we have the legal moralists whose self-righteous ambitions and haughty opinions of themselves know nothing of grace and mercy for they are too busy judging the motives and retaining the sin of others to give a second thought to the concept of Christian love. There is almost no middle ground between these two.

The fields of theology and apologetics are not unaffected by a lack of piety. For many scholars, piety in thought has been rediculed and reduced to "uncritical" and naive approaches in hermeneutics and philosophical inquiry. For many theological and philsophical societies, one of the quickest ways to lose credibility is to articulate a high view of Scripture. These are the men who are training our pastors folks. Scripture is not silent on the matter of piety of mind. We have been over this ground before. There are clear warnings regarding the practice of allowing the intellect to wander from the practice of godly discipline. Paul says we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-6) We are not free to consign Genesis 1-11 as myth. We are not at liberty to discard the warnings of Scripture about the deraved condition of the fallen human intellect. It is not our place to categorize the teachings of Paul on the role of women and men and his teachings on sexual behavior to cultural bias. It is beyond our authority to whimsically discard the ethics of Scripture and to launch out into the sea of life as if we are free to navigate on our own accord.

It is an act of love and devotion to God for us to resist the natural urges of the senses and of the intellect alike. Neither can be permitted to roam freely upon the plains of the culture as if it were an open prairie where our senses and intellects are free to take their desired course. Devotion to Christ in those who are inclined to sensuality can be seen in their fight against lust. Rather than cohabitation, they marry in order to avoid the burning of sexual desire. Odd though it seem to our culture, it is not odd according to divine revelation. Rather than fulfilling homosexual tendencies, they direct their affection toward the opposite sex in accord with God's design. The liar disciplines himself daily so as to be a person of honesty and reliability though his sinful desire rests in deception. Grace rescues Him. The married in the Lord remain so, not disuaded by modern, western notions of a shallow and foolish romance, but out of a sense of awe for the covenant that serves to govern the arrangement. The gospel means more to them than all else. The godly recognize the sinful, selfish idoltary in divorce and put the thoughts far from them. The scholar recognizes that he will never be able to satisfy the intellectual demands of sinful humans. They will sit in judgment of Scripture and place God in the dock relentlessly. His faithfulness to divine truth is far more important to him than academic respeectability before the god-hating academy. It is a price he will gladly pay in order to show his love and devotion to Christ. Given the current state of the Christian communities, the eldership, and scholarship, can there be any doubt that we are in dire need of recovering piety from end to end?

The business of religion is, from time to time, compared to those exercises, wherein men are wont to have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged; such as running, wrestling, or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives, and warring as those that by violence take a city or kingdom...yet every one that has the power of godliness, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things with such strength and vigour, that these holy exercises prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them: for every true disciple of Christ "loves him above father, mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands; yea more than his own life." [Edwards, Jonathan. Concerning Religious Affections.]

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